Ahhh, what a fun way to start the day, with the coming together of two of my favorite beats -- OpEd payola and the Abramoff scandal.
In Business Week this morning, Eamon Javers reports that two noted conservative columnists -- Doug Bandow of Cato and noted Social Security privatization advocate Peter Ferrara -- both accepted cash payments from Jack Abramoff to write columns favorable to his clients.
The revelation has caused Bandow to resign from Cato. But Ferrara, who is now at the Institute for Policy Innovation, says "I do that all the time," Ferrara says. "I've done that in the past, and I'll do it in the future."
Now, I used to follow the OpEd payola story pretty closely. (Here are a few examples of posts on the topic from previous years.) And I have to say that when Ferrara implies that this is a common practice, boy is he right, particularly on the right. There are even shops in DC that specialize in ginning up bogus 'man on the street' opeds which they then get placed on major oped pages. Another area where my reporting showed this to be very common was among foreign lobbyists, a number of whom had ex-foreign service officers and various other foreign policy bigwigs on retainer to write opeds advocating on behalf of their clients. Actually, 'write' overstates the matter. The lobbying firm writes the OpEd and the expert signs it.
It hadn't occurred to me that Abramoff dabbled in this racket. But now that I think about it, I can't imagine why it hadn't. If he had these two on the payroll, there must be many, many more.
Now, before I end this post, let me make one important distinction. Everybody knows that most major politicians have speechwriters. And we don't see anything untoward about that. When a major pol writes an OpEd most people understand that either a speechwriter or policy staffer either helped craft the words or got the ideas from the pol and wrote the piece which the pol then signed. Again, I don't think that shocks anyone. When I said there are shops in DC which specialize in this sort of thing, this 'speech writing' sort of OpEding is not what I'm talking about.
What I'm talking about is when, say, the American Federation of Hot Dog Manufacturers wants to beat some new regulation. So they hire a shop in DC which then goes out and finds some sidewalk hot dog vendor and offers to pay him a couple grand if he'll pretend to be the author of an OpEd saying how the new regs will drive his hot dog stand out of business. They then shop it to one of the conservative OpEd pages which are known to be an easy mark for this sort of scam.
Like I said, there are shops in DC who specialize in that sort of thing.