Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) has used his mailing list as a lucrative tool for many years, and it’s a habit he’s apparently reluctant to break. Even after the Arkansas Republican gave up his Fox News program, apparently to pursue another White House campaign, Huckabee continued to send out emails with “really questionable ads.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) isn’t running for anything, but as discovered last week, he’s also using his list to send out spam-like messages that appear to be scams.
It’s against this backdrop that Kenneth P. Vogel had a great piece this week on the rise of “scam PACs” that target conservative donors.
Since the tea party burst onto the political landscape in 2009, the conservative movement has been plagued by an explosion of PACs that critics say exist mostly to pad the pockets of the consultants who run them. Combining sophisticated targeting techniques with fundraising appeals that resonate deeply among grass-roots activists, they collect large piles of small checks that, taken together, add up to enough money to potentially sway a Senate race. But the PACs plow most of their cash back into payments to consulting firms for additional fundraising efforts.A POLITICO analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission covering the 2014 cycle found that 33 PACs that court small donors with tea party-oriented email and direct-mail appeals raised $43 million – 74 percent of which came from small donors. The PACs spent only $3 million on ads and contributions to boost the long-shot candidates often touted in the appeals, compared to $39.5 million on operating expenses, including $6 million to firms owned or managed by the operatives who run the PACs.
I’m reminded of a line Chris Hayes used a couple of years ago, which continues to ring true: “[M]uch of movement conservatism is a con and the base are the marks.”
Eric Hananoki added soon after, “Media Matters has previously documented how conservatives have scammed their followers. [Erick Erickson], for example, was caught sending a plagiarized email (from Ann Coulter) endorsing a newsletter which purported to reveal a ‘secret’ system to become ‘instant millionaires.’”
And just yesterday, Ben Dimiero noted, “Erick Erickson’s email list subscribers have received a bizarre array of pitches from conspiracy theorists and dubious practitioners warning of the impending death of millions of Americans and promising ‘cures’ to cancer, Alzheimer’s, and aging.”
To be sure, there are some specific differences among these dubious appeals. The Politico piece, for example, highlighted the activities of suspicious political action committees, while the Huckabee, Gingrich, and Erickson examples focus on use of regular ol’ email lists, outside of PAC control.
But the bottom line remains the same: a dynamic now exists in which many conservatives are receiving dubious messages through lists operated by Republican leaders they trust.
The basic idea isn’t entirely new – for decades, groups and political figures sent out direct-mail letters, which regularly included unsavory appeals for cash – but the old model relied on slow and expensive distribution through the mail. It’s cheaper, faster, and easier for these unsavory schemes to be put in motion electronically.
Kevin Drum, meanwhile, asked the question that was on my mind:
So here’s my question: why is this so much more common on the right than on the left? It would be nice to chalk it up to the superior intelligence of liberal audiences and call it a day, but that won’t wash…. One possibility is that a lot of this stuff is aimed at the elderly, and conservatives tend to skew older than liberals. And while that’s probably part of the answer, it’s hardly satisfying. There are plenty of elderly liberals, after all – certainly enough to make them worth targeting with the same kind of fraudulent appeals that infest the right.Another possibility is that it’s basically a supply-side phenomenon. Maybe liberal outlets simply tend to be less ruthless, less willing to set up scam fundraising organizations than conservative outlets. In fact, that actually does seem to be the case. But again: why?
I honestly have no idea, so let’s open it up to some discussion. Why do these scams seem so much more common on the right than the left?