It's worth reading Politico's Manu Raju and Maggie Haberman's recent story on the Senate Conservative Fund, an independent political group that used to specialize in backing "insurgent" primary candidates over "establishment" ones, and that now devotes the bulk of its spending against actual incumbent Republican elected officials -- including, most notably, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The SCF's leader, Matt Hoskins, has a "core team of five staffers" and no board of directors to answer to. The organization reports that it raised more than $9 million in 2013. It spent some of that money on campaigning for its chosen candidates. It has spent some of that money on ... other things.
But without a board of directors, Hoskins and his team can choose to spend with little accountability.
Such expenditures include purchasing hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of conservative commentator Mark Levin’s books to hand out to donors as a freebie for their contributions. His group also paid $143,360 over three years to a luxury design firm to renovate office space in Washington townhouses, according to campaign-finance filings.
Between May 2010 and October 2013, Hoskins and his company, Bold Colors, have been paid, in total, $463,750, with an additional $72,000 from the SCF’s super PAC, records show.
To sum up: The SCF has paid more than a half-million dollars to the consulting firm run by the head of the SCF. But the detail that caused a minor conservative media shit storm was the detail about the SCF buying up Mark Levin's book in bulk. A spokesperson for the RNC -- the "establishment" -- tweeted about it, which led to a bunch of true conservatives complaining about the dastardly accusation that Levin is somehow on the take, just because this group sent a bunch of money this way and he sends a bunch of donors their way. Levin said that the RNC spokesperson, who sent one tweet calling attention to the Politico story, "will not silence me with his sleazy inside-the-beltway tactics.”
And then Erick Erickson stepped up to defend Levin and the SCF, with a completely insane post comparing the symbiotic relationship between the SCF and Levin to the fact that a National Republican Senatorial Committee staffer had child pornography on his computer. I mean, yes, one is a "guilt-by-association" argument with no coherent financial motive while the other is a clear-cut conflict-of-interest deal, but still, they both happened. Erick Erickson: master of analogies. Erickson writes: "It is just as ridiculous to accuse Mark Levin and the Senate Conservatives Fund of a quid pro quo relationship when they happen to be allies in a fight and also happen to be friends."
Even if we didn't live in a world where explicit endorsements-for-pay were common among conservative radio personalities, it wouldn't be "ridiculous" to assume that buying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of a host's book would lead to the host saying nice things about you. But the problem for Erickson's argument is that we actually do live in a world where conservative groups pay talk radio hosts obscene amounts of money to boost their groups. And one of the hosts who does this is Mark Levin. It is a thing he does. He endorses groups for money.
The Senate Conservatives Fund, with the help of various talk radio people, made itself the most prominent group fighting against the GOP establishment on behalf of the Tea Party. That led to them raising lots and lots of money. That money goes to people running the SCF, in the form of salaries and consulting fees, and it goes to the people promoting the SCF, in the form of direct payments and mass book purchases. None of this is illegal (as far as I know, anyway). Is it immoral? Is it unethical? Not many people are interested in answering that question. Nearly every prominent national conservative is in on the graft, and the marks are people who write checks to fund the advancement of conservative ideas or the election of conservative politicians. All of this is exceedingly well-documented. And it doesn't matter.
The thing about this grand bamboozling is that the marks want to be bamboozled. When you tell them that Glenn Beck is paid to have certain opinions, they truly do not care. Sending people money to fight for a cause you strongly believe in feels good. The apocalyptic pitches may be obviously manipulative to anyone outside the target demographic, but they obviously work. And for years, the scheme actually worked in the larger sense, of enriching people and advancing the conservative agenda. With the financial (if not political) success of the SCF's nihilistic approach to strategy, conservatives invested in the actual policy agenda are starting to worry.