Two of the great and terrible trends within the conservative movement are these. First, the rise of paid operatives who purport to be objective about issues while, in fact, they receive financial gain to write or refrain from writing about certain topics and people. Particularly troublesome at the local level, there are scores of local bloggers in states who target individuals who have either not hired them for their “services” or who happen to be opposed by those who have put the blogger on the pay roll or directed ad revenue in some way.
Second are the rise of scam PACs which also target individuals, often using the name and likeness of another to do so. The name and likeness they use receives no benefit, but consultants make out with tons of cash. They prey on the old and unknowing to line the pockets of consultants and the consultants' friends.
Both of these are long term plagues on the conservative movement and it is this latter one that is getting more and more coverage. In getting that coverage though, there is a healthy dose of agenda-setting — often by competitors looking to settle scores by targeting legitimate groups as scams in an effort to discredit them. It is harder and harder to tell whether the narrative being written is a legitimate part of the growing narrative against scam PACs or a sustained campaign against legitimate groups opposed by others. We have seen, for example, a relentless effort in the mainstream press waged by K Street, the NRSC, and other Establishment groups against outside conservative opponents who dare to raise competitors in primaries.
Those stories have largely existed outside conservative blogs and publications because of the clear anti-conservative motivation by the backers of the stories. But, given the rise of real scam PACs, those stories are beginning to filter through to conservatives.
A great deal of hard work went this report at Right Wing News about scam PACs. To tell you the truth, I was starting to feel alone out there. I was one of the few people willing to go on record with the Politico about the great injustice being done by scam PACs on the right. I'm glad to see RWN zero in on a lot of the problems.
Unfortunately, I think its report also gets a lot wrong and one of the problems we are going to have moving forward is, like with the label RINO, labeling groups as scam PACs just because we don't like them. I find it very unfortunate that groups like FreedomWorks, Madison Project, Senate Conservatives Fund, and Club For Growth are lumped in with other clear scam PACs that have not, to date, gotten candidates elected.
In fact, that might first be a good bright line rule. Have these groups gotten people elected to office? That shrinks the list of culprits to start with.
Second, has the Republican Establishment railed against these groups for causing constituent backlash against them? That should reduce the population of culprits further. In fact, four groups in particular are routinely savaged by the Establishment for daring to fight against them: Madison Project, Freedom Works, Senate Conservatives Fund, and the Club For Growth. Those four groups are also most likely to be credited by currently elected officials and candidates as having given them the most help challenging the establishment. Consequently, the appearance of those four groups along with Americans for Prosperity, American Crossroads, and Tea Party Patriots, on the RWN list should raise eyebrows.
Now, in full disclosure, Madison Project; FreedomWorks; Tea Party Patriots; and Senate Conservatives Fund have, in the past sponsored the RedState Gathering. Several of the groups listed by Right Wing News are groups I have specifically refused to allow sponsorship of the RedState Gathering because I do not trust the groups. One of the groups listed has been a prior sponsor and I have ensured it will not happen again.
I also have great relations with and am a donor to Club For Growth, Madison Project and the Senate Conservatives Fund. In fact, in routine conversations I tell people regularly that there are very few groups on the right I give money to because I know it will get spent wisely. That list almost exclusively is the Senate Conservatives Fund, Madison Project, Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, and Heritage Action for America (HAFA) — the five groups that have put more points on the board for conservatives in the past few years than any others.1
I have to raise some issue with the framing of the RWN report because, just on how it has covered the Senate Conservatives Fund, it gets so much wrong. And if it gets that much wrong about the Senate Conservatives Fund, in part by viewing objective data subjectively, how much else is wrong?
Reading the report, the Senate Conservatives Fund spent only 22% on candidates. I know, in fact, that the Senate Conservatives Fund spends in excess of 70% of all money raised in the last two years directly on candidates and issue advocacy. I am actually very familiar with SCF because I have a relationship with them wherein I get zero money from them, but speak in support of them. Because I try not to be affiliated with dubious groups, I have researched SCF, am familiar with its spending, know its managers, and have examined its federal filings myself. I was, at one point, an elections lawyer and am well able to navigate FEC reports to make sure I'm not lending my name to a scam.
The report omits $4.7 million in hard dollars that SCF raised and passed on directly to candidates, it omits the $2.6 million SCF's super PAC spent on independent expenditures for those candidates, and it improperly counts $3.5 million SCF spent on issue ads as money wasted on overhead.
The post-publication footnote on SCF gives some reason as to the discrepancy. But again, it’s bad reporting.
The Senate Conservatives Fund passes through a massive amount of money to candidates. In fact, were you to talk to Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Ben Sasse, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), or any number of other candidates, they would tell you SCF played a direct and substantial role in their election.
I asked the Senate Conservatives Fund for a few statements from elected officials who will vouch for the credibility of the organization. Here are a few they sent over:
“The SCF endorsement is highly coveted because it makes such a big impact in races. It's not only the conservative good housekeeping seal of approval; it's a critical source of campaign funds. After SCF endorsed our campaign, we received hundreds of thousands of dollars from patriots across the country,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
"I just want to thank all of the members of SCF ... for your generous support, your hard work, and your prayers on my behalf," Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) said.
Likewise, Senator Ben Sasse is on record saying, "SCF donors and supporters have been not just a financial help to us but frankly a huge emotional encouragement."
But then consider this bit from their report:
“SCF also thought it deserves credit for non-candidate issue ad spending. We found $2,735,267 of that type of spending. However, since as a practical matter, issue ads are often just advertising for the group, we didn’t include those in its totals.”
That’s simply and objectively not true in the case of the Senate Conservatives Fund. Did they watch even watch the ads?
Take a look for yourself and see if these ads are “just advertising for the group.”
Combine all this with one point worth repeating — which groups are routinely assailed by Washington Republicans as the groups making their compromises with the Democrats all the more painful? Routinely it is SCF, Club for Growth, Madison Project, FreedomWorks, and Heritage Action for America.
If the Right Wing News report missed all these facts about SCF, including by subjectively deciding its commercials promote itself more than its cause, what else did it miss? The Madison Project itself deserves a detailed response because the statements regarding Madison also miscast and generally miss much. I appreciate others joining the cause against scam PACs, but they must do some simple fact checking and be more discerning on what those PACs are and are not.
1. HAFA is not a part of the RWN story and does not pit candidates in primaries against other Republicans, but along with Madison, SCF, FreedomWorks and the Club, is routinely targeted by K Street and the GOP Establishment.