It’s easy to forget that No Labels exists as an entity, but it does. Four years after a high-profile launch, the group apparently still wants to help the political system by promoting non-partisanship.
If you’ve forgotten about the organization outside of its role as a punch-line to Twitter jokes, you’re forgiven – it’s not at all clear what No Labels has been up to for the last four years. Looking over my archives, the group apparently took a keen interest in bipartisan seating at the State of the Union – up to and including a full-page New York Times ad on the subject – but in terms of substantive, meaningful work, No Labels doesn’t appear to have made any impact on American politics at all.
That does not, however, appear to have adversely affected the group’s bank account. Meredith Shiner uncovered some interesting details this week about No Labels’ finances and the degree to which the group has become “yet another cog in the D.C. moneymaking machine.” [Update: Shiner writes for Yahoo News.]
Like many other outside political groups, No Labels spends a disproportionate part of its budget maintaining and promoting its own organization, trying to keep its profile high while ensuring a steady flow of fundraising dollars, whose donors they keep secret, in a cluttered nonprofit environment. […]And though No Labels has positioned itself as a warrior against gridlock, an internal document obtained by Yahoo News suggests the group is banking on more political dysfunction in an attempt to find “opportunity” and relevance for itself.
According to Shiner’s findings, much of the No Labels budget goes towards “sustaining or promoting” No Labels. The organization that launched with a goal of engaging Congress to pursue bipartisan policymaking now apparently spends about 4% of its projected $4.5 million budget on congressional relations.
Shiner added, “By contrast, administrative and operational expenses got $1.035 million over the same time period. Another 5 percent was set for travel. A further 30 percent ($1.35 million) was earmarked for digital growth and press, and 14 percent for fundraising.”
As for what No Labels has to show for its efforts, Simon Maloy noted, “The group’s list of ‘accomplishments’ is a depressing read, consisting largely of favorable press clips, members of Congress wearing No Labels pins to various functions, and the fact that ‘No Labels’ hashtag #FixNotFight was a trending topic on Twitter during the 2013 State of the Union address.’”
Long-time readers may recall that I’ve long been skeptical of No Labels’ well-intentioned-but-ultimately-exasperating goals. The group has always operated from dubious goals: process is more important than policy, and the only good ideas are the ones both parties endorse. Fealty to a party or an ideology is inherently mistaken, the argument goes, because ideologies and parties are divisive.
But this is the wrong way to evaluate ideas on the merits. When a solution is proposed to address an important problem, the first instinct should be, “Does it work?” not, “Do both parties like it?”
“Bipartisan” is not a synonym for “smart.” Democrats and Republicans sometimes agree on bad ideas, just as the parties sometimes both reject good ideas. If a member of one party has a worthwhile proposal, its merit shouldn’t be judged on whether his or her rivals disagree with it.
No Labels has always seemed to have its heart in the right place, but it’s spent four years asking the wrong questions.
And now this new reporting from Yahoo News raises an even larger concern about the organization’s purpose. Meredith Shiner’s report added, “[I]t appears the group designed to combat the insidious habits of the Washington establishment has been engulfed by it.”