Friday, December 16, 2005

Op-Eds for Sale

I originally found this over at Shakespeare's Sister, and its revelation is rather surprising. So I went back to the original source of

A columnist from a libertarian think tank admits accepting payments to promote an indicted lobbyist's clients. Will more examples follow?

A senior fellow at the Cato Institute resigned from the libertarian think tank on Dec. 15 after admitting that he had accepted payments from indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff for writing op-ed articles favorable to the positions of some of Abramoff's clients. Doug Bandow, who writes a syndicated column for Copley News Service, told BusinessWeek Online that he had accepted money from Abramoff for writing between 12 and 24 articles over a period of years, beginning in the mid '90s.

"It was a lapse of judgment on my part, and I take full responsibility for it," Bandow said from a California hospital, where he's recovering from recent knee surgery.

So here we have a senior fellow from a think-tank institute, taking monetary payments from lobbyists for writing stories and columns that are favorable to the lobbyist's clients. And there is probably no disclosure of payment from this lobbyist for this story. It is incredible!

But there's more to come:

Bandow has written more than 150 editorials and columns over the past five years, each identifying his Cato affiliation. His syndicated column for Copley News Service is featured in several hundred newspapers across the country. Bandow's biography on the Cato Institute Web site says he has also appeared as a commentator on all the major television broadcast networks and the cable news channels.

This shows that Bandow is all over in the journalistic field, with stories, columns, TV and cable news spots. This gives him major credibility and a reputation, making what he says more credible and reputable. People are going to listen to what he says, and will shape their opinions to his views.

Now the details of the Abramoff transactions:

MULTIPLE TRAVAILS. A former Abramoff associate says Bandow and at least one other think-tank expert were typically paid $2,000 per column to address specific topics of interest to Abramoff's clients. Bandow's standing as a columnist and think-tank analyst provided a seemingly independent validation of the arguments the Abramoff team were using to try to sway Congressional action.

Bandow confirms that he received $2,000 for some pieces, but says it was "usually less than that amount." He says he wrote all the pieces himself, though with topics and information provided by Abramoff. He adds that he wouldn't write about subjects that didn't interest him.

ATTITUDE SWING. A review of Bandow's columns and other written work shows that he wrote favorably about Abramoff's Indian tribal clients -- as well as another Abramoff client, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands -- as far back as 1997. One column, syndicated by the Copley News Service, saluted one Abramoff client tribe, the Mississippi Choctaws, for their entrepreneurial spirit, hard work, and commitment to free enterprise. "The Choctaws offer a model for other tribes," Bandow wrote.

In none of Bandow's op-eds were any Abramoff payments disclosed, however -- nor were they disclosed to the Cato Institute. On Dec. 16, Copley News Service announced it is suspending Bandow pending its own review. In a statement, Glenda Winders, Copley News Service editor and vice-president, said: "We want to make sure we have all the facts before we take final action. But it had never been our policy to distribute work paid for by third parties whose role is not disclosed by the columnist."

In a perverted way, it makes perfect sense on how you lobby for your clients. First, you provide political campaign contributions to your congressional representatives as a means to gain access for your clients' views. Then you pay think-tank experts to write stories and appear on news programs to tout your clients' view points as seemingly independent proof to the congressmen for enacting legislation that is favorable to your clients' interests. This circular logic feeds upon itself, with the more money you put in--both through the political campaign contributions, and through the payments for favorable stories. And while you're at it, why not provide those think-tank experts with the information needed to write those favorable stories? The credibility of these seemingly "independent" stories is enhanced since there is no disclosure that the lobbyist paid to have these stories written, providing more independent proof that the congressmens' decisions are based on other reasons, and not due to the lobbyist's influences.

What is even more incredible is some of the opinions these think-tank columnists have. Continuing on:

Bandow isn't the only think-tanker to have received payments from Abramoff for writing articles. Peter Ferrara, a senior policy adviser at the conservative Institute for Policy Innovation, says he, too, took money from Abramoff to write op-ed pieces boosting the lobbyist's clients. "I do that all the time," Ferrara says. "I've done that in the past, and I'll do it in the future."

Ferrara, who has been an influential conservative voice on Social Security reform, among other issues, says he doesn't see a conflict of interest in taking undisclosed money to write op-ed pieces because his columns never violated his ideological principles.

"It's a matter of general support," Ferrara says. "These are my views, and if you want to support them, then that's good." But he adds that at some point over the years, Abramoff stopped working with him: "Jack lost interest in me and felt he had other writers who were writing in more prominent publications," Ferrara says.

Ferrara began working at the Institute for Policy Innovation after the period during which he wrote the op-ed pieces for Abramoff. Earlier, he worked at the activist anti-tax organization Americans for Tax Reform.

Ferrara wouldn't say which publications have published pieces for which Abramoff paid him. But a review of his work shows that he wrote articles for The Washington Times that were favorable to the Choctaw Indians and the Mariana Islands. He also wrote a 1998 book called The Choctaw Revolution: Lessons for Federal Indian Policy. Ferrara says the tribe paid him directly for his work on the book, which was published by the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation and is still available for sale on

What really bugs me is not the fact that lobbyists are paying columnists for writing articles, but rather there is no disclosure of these transactions in the article. These columnists are writing these articles in such a way that we are to assume that they've analyzed the issue and have come to some sort of conclusion, based on their analysis. There is nothing in those columns, saying the columnist is taking monetary payments from a lobbyist for writing articles that are favorable to the lobbyist's interests--regardless of whether the columnist agrees or disagrees with the viewpoints. That's the problem here--we are lulled into a sense of credibility here, when there is no credibility. It doesn't matter if it is Abramoff, or even a lobbyist spouting the Democratic Party's viewpoints. There has to be full disclosure if a writer is being paid by anyone to discuss a particular viewpoint on an issue.


Tom Giovanetti said...

The article in BusinessWeek that started this whole thing, upon which all subsequent articles and Paul Krugman's commentary are based, omitted important statements and resulted in a complete misrepresentation. All subsequent who have written on this topic are guilty of passing on misrepresentation without bothering to fact-check. You can view IPI's and Ferrara's statements at

Eric A Hopp said...

I've reviewed Peter Ferrara's statement on the website. It is pretty much a standard denial that Ferrara ever took money from lobbying interests in exchange for writing favorable stories. Am I suppose to believe what Ferrara says over that of the BusinessWeek story? Or the BusinessWeek story over Ferrara? I'd say it is a little of both. Ferrara probably takes some money from lobbying interests in exchange for writing stories that he believes in, or is passionate about. And perhaps Ferrara discloses that lobbyists pay him for some articles, or perhaps there is no disclosure. I can't say. I don't like the idea of think-tank writers taking undisclosed money from anyone, for writing stories--whether they are favorable or unfavorable--to a lobbying group or business interest.