Grifters: Why The Worst Get On Top

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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I’ve given up counting how many times Eric Hoffer’s maxim — “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket” — has come in handy.

One could, it seems, do nothing but cover allegations of skeevy behavior, disguised as movement conservative activism. From Alexis Levinson’s look at tea party groups — to my look at some of the worst practitioners in the direct mail fundraising business — TheDC has been helping police this beat.

But it’s a full-time job.

The latest comes in the form of a ProPublica piece penned by Kim Barker, in which she alleges the non-profit group “Move America Forward has collected millions to send care packages to U.S. troops. But its assets have been used to benefit conservative political consulting firms close to its Tea Party founder.”

Who is this swashbuckling founder, you ask? “The driving force behind Move America Forward,” Barker continues, “is Sal Russo, 67, the longtime political consultant who is listed on the 10-year-old charity’s tax returns as chief strategist.” (Note: This gets confusing because Russo helped launch several different groups, with different names, including the Tea Party Express.)

It strikes me as ironic that the tea party — ostensibly a populist uprising against the consultant “ruling” class and GOP establishment — would have a “longtime political consultant” and (apparently) a millionaire as one of its leaders.

Maybe this is just the lamestream media blowing things out of proportion. So how bad are the allegations, really? Via Dave Weigel, this quote from another ProPublica piece Barker wrote a while back probably sums it up best:

Of the $9.3 million spent by Our Country Deserves Better, more than $3.8 million went to Russo, Marsh and Associates, employees or others connected to the firm. Of the $3.9 million spent by the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, $2.4 million went to the firm and its associates. The pro-military Move America Forward Freedom PAC spent almost $143,000.

Like Ed Morrissey (and almost every other conservative writer I know), I have voluntarily participated in Move America Forward’s past “Troopathons.”

And, as Morrissey noted, “If true, this saddens, angers, and sickens me…”

Here’s the funny thing, though. The political consultants and operatives who co-opt the tea party movement — either by naming their group something that has the words “tea party” in the title, or by other means — are the ones exploiting conservatives.

The irony is that anyone who dares point this out is at risk of being labeled an apostate. So grifters become heroes while truth-tellers (who care about exposing them) are labeled RINOs.

Hayek, I suppose, had a point about the worst getting on top.