The Corner

Politics & Policy

Conservative Scams Are Bringing Down the Conservative Movement

While there’s no single reason for the GOP’s presidential meltdown in 2016, an explanation has to at least include the extent to which conservative con artists exploited popular discontent mainly to pad their own pocketbooks. Writing in Politico, campaign finance lawyer Paul Jossey details how ”conservative” PACs systematically drained tens of millions of dollars from conservative donors — only to use that money to fund lavish salaries and more fundraising:

The Tea Party movement is pretty much dead now, but it didn’t die a natural death. It was murdered—and it was an inside job. In a half decade, the spontaneous uprising that shook official Washington degenerated into a form of pyramid scheme that transferred tens of millions of dollars from rural, poorer Southerners and Midwesterners to bicoastal political operatives.

What began as an organic, policy-driven grass-roots movement was drained of its vitality and resources by national political action committees that dunned the movement’s true believers endlessly for money to support its candidates and causes. The PACs used that money first to enrich themselves and their vendors and then deployed most of the rest to search for more “prospects.” In Tea Party world, that meant mostly older, technologically unsavvy people willing to divulge personal information through “petitions”—which only made them prey to further attempts to lighten their wallets for what they believed was a good cause. While the solicitations continue, the audience has greatly diminished because of a lack of policy results and changing political winds.

If you give to even one conservative cause — or sign up for even one email newsletter — your email and mailbox will be deluged with direct, desperate appeals for money. Jossey shows that many of these organizations would spend a grand total of ten percent of their incomes on funding candidates, with 90 percent dedicated to more fundraising and ever-higher activist salaries. 

Even worse, as the competition for the conservative dollar grew, so did the hysterics. The movement literally tore itself apart in the quest to find the “true conservatives” or the right “warriors” who would finally topple Obama, repeal Obamacare, and expose the true extent of Hillary’s lies. They stoked controversies beyond all reason, fed the worst sort of conspiracy theories, and led rank and file conservatives to believe that their elected representatives were doing literally nothing to oppose the Obama administration.

But conservatism-as-a-business corrupted more than just PACs. One of the reasons why the GOP presidential field was so large is that recent past experience (like Mike Huckabee’s television show) taught Republican politicians that there was upside in failure. Book deals, radio shows, and Fox contracts beckoned. Always there was an incentive for hyperbole. The result was a conservative movement that for some of its “leaders” devolved into three parts cash and one part principle. And in that formula, cash is king

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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