Who Do You Trust?

by Peter Spiliakos

Say you are someone on the center-right and you want to donate money to advance your political beliefs.  You might be wealthy, economically conservative, uninterested in social issues,  and ready to donate thousands.  You might be both economically and socially conservative, and can only spare fifty dollars. Either way, you have the same problem.  Who do you trust with your money?

Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote a scathing column about the self-dealing among Tea Party-branded conservative groups. You can look at it as a story about how tea partiers are suckers, but that is missing the point.

The establishment-connected Super-PACs spent hundreds of millions of dollars in 2012 with no discernible impact on the outcome of the general election at either the presidential or senatorial level. The problems wasn’t that the people running the establishment Super PACs gave themselves exorbitant salaries.  The problem was that they followed a made-in-the-1970s media strategy while producing commercials that varied from the strange and worthless to the hilariously counterproductive.

I doubt that the consultants in charge of the 2012 Super PAC campaigns were trying to waste donor money.  It’s just that they were the only game in town, so they didn’t have to work all that hard to update their methods or adjust to a new audience.  For the establishment donors, it was either the old, tired, lazy Republican consultant class or nothing. For the tea partiers, it was either taking a chance on unknown organizations that had “Tea Party” in their name, or giving money to Karl Rove, or nothing.    

The problem isn’t Tea Party grifters, or superannuated establishment Republican consultants looking to make one last big score (or two) before they retire. The problem is the lack of any credible institutions on the right that are dedicated to understanding contemporary public opinion and reaching to voters who do currently support the Democrats, but might vote for an incremental and relevant center-right program.  Building those institutions is the best way to make sure that less money goes to either the grifters or the hacks.