catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

The mortgage made him do it — the undoing of Cato's Doug Bandow

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"For years, rumors have swirled of an underground opinion ‘pay-for-play’ industry in Washington in which think-tank employees and pundits trade their ability to shape public perception for cash" writes Eamon Javers in Business Week. Rumor has now become substantiated fact. On 15 December 2005 Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, handed in his resignation "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."

In a piece for the Los Angeles Times Doug Bandow describes himself as an unassuming policy nerd who wanted to be an opinion journalist:

I came to Washington with Ronald Reagan but left the administration early, frustrated by the domination of Republican apparatchiks. Bent on becoming an opinion journalist, I landed a syndicated column, which was a supportive home. But I could never live on what it paid alone. I affiliated with the Cato Institute, which always encouraged my work. But in the early years my wage there didn’t cover my mortgage, let alone anything else.

So I created a patchwork of jobs. I ghostwrote Op-Ed articles, drafted political speeches, prepared internal corporate briefings and strategized business media campaigns. All the while, I also wrote commentary and opinion pieces.

Clearly, the ethical boundaries in all this aren’t always obvious. Virtually everyone I worked with or wrote for had an ax to grind. Even think tanks and opinion journals have explicit ideological perspectives, which they support through fundraising. Certainly politicians, PR firms, companies and associations have explicit agendas. Although none of the people I worked with or for ever asked me to change a commentary I wrote, when you look back at it, conflicts were possible.

According to Javers’ article in Business Week:

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 says that when he first met Abramoff "he was an activist who seemed to be promoting issues with which I identified — federalism, self-help, lower taxes and less regulation." Later on Abramoff came to him with topics he wanted him to write about. The lobbyist supplied information and money and, if he was interested enough in the issue, Bandow wrote the columns.

In his defence Bandow says "I never took a position contrary to my beliefs. I wouldn’t have had the luxury of selling out even had I been so inclined. My biases are too fixed and well known to allow a convenient conversion."

Not only has Bandow lost his job at Cato but he has also resigned from Copley News Service, the syndicate which provided his columns to several hundred newspapers across the United States.

Bandow isn’t the only one to get caught up in the Abramoff scandal. Javers reports that Peter Ferrara, a senior policy adviser at the Institute for Policy Innovation also took money from Abramoff. Editor & Publisher report that a number of other “conservative commentators” also took money "to promote programs and initiatives without disclosing the funding. They include Armstrong Williams of Tribune Media Services (which dropped Williams), Maggie Gallagher of Universal Press Syndicate, and the self-syndicated Michael McManus."

Update: Bandow now has a job as Vice President of Policy at Citizen Outreach — a not-for-profit public policy organisation which, according to its website has "no full-time staff and relies on volunteers and paid consultants for special projects".

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Written by Admin

January 14, 2006 at 2:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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