Here Come the Shills

The subtext of the Jack Abramoff-Tom DeLay scandals now roiling Washington is that there’s a lot of corporate and lobbyist money sloshing through Congress, and it’s having a pernicious effect on good, clean, democratic government. That’s an important story, but it’s even more important to note that the “money in politics” problem isn’t just limited to politicians. As Frank Foer outlines in the New Republic this week, there’s also a tremendous amount of corporate and lobbyist money sloshing through right-wing think tanks and media outlets, which means that more and more, it’s not just conservative politicians but conservative ideas themselves that are being hijacked by what Jacob Weisberg calls “interest-group conservatism.”

To some extent, this process isn’t yet complete. The Heritage Foundation, for instance, came out strongly against both the corporate goodie bag known as the 2003 Medicare bill, and have condemned the yet-to-be-passed energy bill in Congress on similar grounds. Principled small-government conservatism still exists, at least in the think tanks. But it’s not at all clear how long this purity will last. Foer notes that after a few Abramoff-financed junkets to the Marinaras, think tanks from CATO to AEI to Heritage were all more than willing to tout the virtues of the odd labor regulations there. And Abramoff’s moneyed connections helped reverse the longstanding conservative think-tank hostility to the Malaysian government in the late ’90s.

Is it so off to think that, with a bit more money and a few industry-funded “educational trips abroad,” groups like Heritage could be convinced of the virtues of massive taxpayer subsidies to the pharmaceutical and coal industries? Hardly. Already, as Chris Mooney reported in the cover story of the latest Mother Jones, an entire ExxonMobil-funded “think-tank” network has sprung up to “debunk” the science of global warming. (Those scare quotes are there for a reason.) At the rate we’re going, soon there will no longer be any principled conservative ideas or sound policies, only unprincipled shilling for the highest bidder.

One More Thing

And it's a big one. Mother Jones is launching a new Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on the corruption that is both the cause and result of the crisis in our democracy.

The more we thought about how Mother Jones can have the most impact right now, the more we realized that so many stories come down to corruption: People with wealth and power putting their interests first—and often getting away with it.

Our goal is to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We're aiming to create a reporting position dedicated to uncovering corruption, build a team, and let them investigate for a year—publishing our stories in a concerted window: a special issue of our magazine, video and podcast series, and a dedicated online portal so they don't get lost in the daily deluge of headlines and breaking news.

We want to go all in, and we've got seed funding to get started—but we're looking to raise $500,000 in donations this spring so we can go even bigger. You can read about why we think this project is what the moment demands and what we hope to accomplish—and if you like how it sounds, please help us go big with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.