• Turning Conservatism Into A Racket

    Debbie Stabenow, Thad Cochran

    Eric Hoffer once said, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” For elements of the Republican Party and, unfortunately, some in the conservative movement, Hoffer’s statement has become a fact of life.

    Some activists have expressed shock and dismay at the tactics taken by former Republican National Committee head Haley Barbour on behalf of the Thad Cochran campaign for Senate. They shouldn’t.

    Barbour may have come to DC as part of a movement but turned it into a business and then became part of the racket parlaying his experience as a candidate for U.S. Senate, a White House aide and the head of the RNC into a multi-million dollar paycheck from the creation of his lobbying firm BGR.  After taking a leave of absence while he was governor of Mississippi, he returned to the Beltway to lobby.

    Hence when one of his political benefactors, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) found himself in the political fight of his life, Barbour was willing to throw any remaining principle he had left in his body to save the Senator — including calling the Tea Party and the conservative movement racists.

    The tale of Haley Barbour is not a new one. Just look at the American Conservative Union (ACU).

    Founded in 1964, the group was at the forefront of the movement to elect Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) as president of the United States. But today, the group appears to be nothing more than a front group for lobbyists who harness the group’s name and reputation to benefit their corporate clients.

    In 2011, the ACU elected registered lobbyist Al Cardenas to be its chairman. During the next three years, the group was caught with its hand in the proverbial cookie jar on a number of occasions. While the conservative movement was fighting against subsidies for the sugar industry, Florida native Cardenas led the group by the nose to support protectionist policies the industry desperately wants. The group endorsed an industry effort to keep subsidies in place that hurts consumers — free market be damned. Then the group proposed an effort to fight spending cuts by lining up financial support from the road builders and contractors.

    Apparently not learning from their mistakes, the group has now enlisted another lobbyist, Matt Schlapp, to take the reigns of the operation. Schlapp, a protégé of the Darth Vader of the GOP establishment, Karl Rove, lobbies for a number of clients including Hollywood and the Motion Pictures Association (MPAA). With Hollywood pressing its agenda to regulate the Internet and extend copyright terms well beyond anything envisioned by the Founding Fathers, it won’t be long before the group places its name in support of Hollywood’s agenda.

    At least three ACU Board members have resigned since Mr. Schlapp was selected to head the organization. Marc Rotterman, the former treasurer of the organization and a Board member for 14 years along with Reaganite Craig Shirley and famed Tea Party counsel Cleta Mitchell have all stepped away, feeling, in the words of one insider, the organization was moving away from Reagan and toward K-Street.

    The establishment hates the Tea Party and its members because they will cut off subsidies, giveaways and end cronyism. Barbour has made his bed. It remains to be seen how long it will take Schlapp to make his.

    Roberto Escoban

    Roberto Escoban is the pen name of a conservative activist who spent 20 years working in Washington including a decade on Capitol Hill.

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