Opinions to the Highest Bidder

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The American Conservative Union describes itself as “the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots conservative lobbying organization” devoted to, among other conservative ideals, “a market economy.” For the ACU, it seems, everything should be determined by market forces—including what policies it should support.

Politico’s Mike Allen has caught the organization in an embarrassing pay-for-play scandal:

The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a check for $2 million to $3 million in return for the group’s endorsement in a bitter legislative dispute, then flipped and sided with UPS after FedEx refused to pay.

For the $2 million plus, ACU offered a range of services that included: “Producing op-eds and articles written by ACU’s Chairman David Keene and/or other members of the ACU’s board of directors. (Note that Mr. Keene writes a weekly column that appears in The Hill.)”

The conservative group’s remarkable demand — black-and-white proof of the longtime Washington practice known as “pay for play” — was contained in a private letter to FedEx , which was provided to POLITICO.

The letter exposes the practice by some political interest groups of taking stands not for reasons of pure principle, as their members and supporters might assume, but also in part because a sponsor is paying big money.

In the three-page letter asking for money on June 30, the conservative group backed FedEx. After FedEx says it rejected the offer, Keene signed onto a two-page July 15 letter backing UPS.

Go ahead and read the rest of the article and the letters linked above. It will be interesting to see whether The Hill, one of Capitol Hill’s daily newspapers, decides to retain Keene’s column.

This is by no means an isolated incident. For other examples of opinion selling, consider the Heritage Foundation’s dramatic shift in favor of Malaysia, as reported by the Washington Post, or the merchandising of pro-Azerbaijan op-eds by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R – Texas), Christian conservative leader Gary Bauer, and Ambassador Elizabeth Jones.

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