The Conservative “Racket”

And the conservative movement – a bulwark of American strength for the last several decades – is in deep disarray. Reading about some conservative organizations and Republican campaigns these days, one is reminded of Eric Hoffer’s remark, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” It may be that major parts of American conservatism have become such a racket that a kind of refounding of the movement as a cause is necessary. A reinvigoration of the Republican party also seems desirable, based on a new generation of leaders, perhaps coming – as did Ike and Reagan – from outside the normal channels. –: William Kristol

Maybe this isn’t fair, but the very first thing that paragraph from Bill Kristol brought to mind: was this story.

American Rambler, a media firm with ties to Stuart Stevens, Russ Schriefer and Eric Fehrnstrom (all media strategists for Romney), received more than $234 million in payments from the campaign. That total included nearly $189 million for “placed media” and $16 million for “online advertising” – the actual costs of buying airtime and space on the Internet. When the firm bought television ads, FCC filings state that it received a 15 percent commission on those payments. Campaign officials stated that the commission fees went right back into the campaign. [updated below]

The firm made plenty of dough doing other things as well. There was $9.1 million for polling, $8.67 million for strategy consulting, $8.8 million for media production, nearly $2.4 million for communications consulting and $548,000 for “media placement fees.”

Spencer Zwick, Romney’s finance chairman, saw two of his companies accumulate hefty checks during the election. SJZ LLC took in a total of $9.76 million from the Romney campaign and the Romney Victory Fund, and Victory Group 2012 received $19.25 million from the Romney Victory Fund for fundraising consulting.

Another big winner was Targeted Victory, an Internet strategy firm co-founded by Zac Moffatt, an adviser to the Romney campaign. The firm was paid just under $94 million from the Romney Victory Fund for “digital consulting” and “web development” (the total likely includes the cost of placing online ads).

FLS Connect, a telemarketing and data management firm where Romney’s political director, Rich Beeson, once served as a partner, received more than $18.26 million from the campaign and the Victory Fund. Much of that money went to telemarketing, but because the campaign often listed “data management” alongside telemarketing as the service performed by the firm, it is impossible to get a clean breakdown. A Republican powerhouse, the firm has become the focus of post-campaign complaints from conservatives warning about the “incestuous” nature of GOP politics.

Consultants should certainly get paid for the work they do, but something seems wrong when a gang of consultants can become extremely wealthy even though they were completely outclassed by their counterparts across the aisle. They ran an ineffective losing campaign in a year that should have been a slam dunk victory and as “punishment,” they’ll become multi-millionaires and probably end up with columnist/TV gigs.

As someone who has dabbled in consulting and knows lots of consultants, it’s true that they’re not all bad, but it’s also worth noting there’s a gap the size of the Grand Canyon between the confidence level of a lot of the consultants in their opinions and the actual results they achieve in practice on campaigns. It’s funny how often their suggestions get followed to the letter, the GOP loses, and yet the blame is shifted to conservatism, social conservatives, and Tea Partiers who weren’t listened to in the first place.

Instead, we go with the same worn out formulas from the consultants that keep failing, the same leaders who keep failing (McConnell, Boehner, Cornyn, Priebus), the same agendas that keep failing to appeal to the voters, and the same organizations that keep failing – and we don’t understand why the GOP is falling behind. Conservative principles have just as much appeal today as they did when Reagan was President, but Republicans have become so fossilized and out of touch with why they were sent to D.C. that we’re losing the ability to take advantage of it. Nothing is going to change until we change that.

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