Payola for Conservative Bloggers?

Well, this is all news to me! The Daily Caller has an article titled “True stories of bloggers who secretly feed on partisan cash” that may lead some to believe this is a widespread problem.

Katie Couric once described bloggers as journalists who gnaw at new information “like piranhas in a pool.” But increasingly, many bloggers are also secretly feeding on cash from political campaigns, in a form of partisan payola that erases the line between journalism and paid endorsement.

“It’s standard operating procedure” to pay bloggers for favorable coverage, says one Republican campaign operative. A GOP blogger-for-hire estimates that “at least half the bloggers that are out there” on the Republican side “are getting remuneration in some way beyond ad sales.”

In California, where former eBay executive Meg Whitman beat businessman Steve Poizner in a bitterly fought primary battle in the campaign for governor, it sometimes seemed as if there was a bidding war for bloggers.

One pro-Poizner blogger, Aaron Park, was discovered to be a paid consultant to the Poizner campaign while writing for Red County, a conservative blog about California politics. Red County founder Chip Hanlon threw Park off the site upon discovering his affiliation, which had not been disclosed.

Poizner’s campaign was shocked to learn of the arrangement, apparently coordinated by an off-the-reservation consultant. For Park, though, it was business as usual. In November 2009, for instance, he approached the campaign of another California office-seeker — Chuck DeVore, who was then running for Senate — with an offer to blog for money.

“I can be retained at a quite reasonable rate or for ‘projects,’” Park wrote in an e-mail to campaign officials. In an interview, Park defended himself by claiming, “nobody has any doubt which candidates I’m supporting,” and noting that his blog specifies which candidates he “endorses.”

Wow! Standard procedure to pay off bloggers? Not that I’ve ever heard of. There’s an ad for Ann Marie Buerkle on the right side of this site that says “America is in the Red.” For the record, I donated that ad space to the Buerkle campaign and I haven’t received any money from the campaign in return. It didn’t even cross my mind to ask for money. Any other Buerkle ads that appear come through Google Ad Sense. I’m hoping that when we get a little closer to the election I’ll sell a few ads through Blog Ads, but it won’t be anywhere near what they’re getting at the Shark Tank for political ads.

Florida political blog Shark-Tank.net, which reaches about 15,000 viewers per month, is asking campaigns for $3,200 a month for a large banner ad. For that same price, an advertiser could purchase similar space on political blogs reaching over 1 million readers each week.

I think a small ad here through Blog Ads runs $20 a week. I’d hardly call that payola. Ed Morrissey points out that most of the examples cited in the story relate to California campaigns. But that didn’t stop the DC from trying to make it look like other bloggers are getting rich off of political campaigns.

Dan Riehl, who writes the Riehl World View blog, is one of Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele’s most vocal defenders in the conservative blogosphere. When The Daily Caller reported the RNC spent $1,946 at a bondage-themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex acts, Riehl blasted the piece as a “pathetically weak story tailored to play to the Left and create problems for the GOP.”

“Riehl World View” readers might be interested to know that Riehl is not simply a blogger, but also a paid consultant to the RNC. In an interview, Riehl said he was paid an amount in the “hundreds of dollars” for writing a strategy document on how the RNC could better reach out to bloggers. Riehl said his motivation for defending Steele was to aid the Republican Party, and that he didn’t disclose his consulting work because, “I didn’t see it as having anything to do with my views.”

Dan Riehl, no fan of the Daily Caller, responded:

I devoted hours and hours of my own time over a period of months trying to coordinate an effort involving many top bloggers and the RNC to improve communications and legal, legitimate cooperation in a partisan sense. I stress that, as it was the RNC that made me aware of certain FEC restrictions, which we were careful to not violate. That’s why money wasn’t involved. I made phone calls, took meetings, paid Metro and lunch costs, all out of my own pocket because I am dedicated to improving the blogosphere in an ethical manner – as well as winning politically for Republicans at the ballot box. I won’t name which top bloggers were involved, but there are many that could vouch for these facts if they wanted to. If they want to stay out of it, that’s fine, too.

If I had done it as a consultant, I’d likely have charged in the tens of thousands of dollars. I didn’t. When all was said and done, the RNC asked me to write up a concise document based on the knowledge that was discovered from the process. It’s called knowledge transfer, actually. I promptly disclosed to all involved bloggers that I had a chance to make a few hundred bucks for doing that, and only thatand I was taking it, if there were no objections. If they had any objections, none were conveyed to me at the time. So, see, it never really was a secret. It was so insignificant, especially in light of the many, many hours of non-paid, volunteer work I had done in the effort, it never even occurred to me to disclose it on my blog. It was simply insignificant as compared to the larger non-paid effort.

As a consultant, I would have billed a few thousand dollars for the document. DC consultants are notoriously over-paid. Instead, I charged a few hundred, mostly it was as a token of appreciation, really. And guess what, the Daily Caller’s silly strip club story killed all that work. The RNC pulled in on itself, staff changes were made – and, so far as I know, the document I did designed to help the blogosphere and RNC relationship as a whole, simply got shelved. And, by the way, the out of pocket expenses some struggling bloggers paid on their own for calls, or a meeting, that all went down the drain, too.

Basically, Riehl’s been trying to do a public service for conservative bloggers and the Republican Party. Bloggers on the left are financed by guys like George Soros. Those of us on the right, with the exception of the most well known blogs, really don’t make much money doing this. Not that we wouldn’t like to, but for the most part we’re doing it because we actually care about the future of this country. What Riehl was trying to do was to get the Republican Party to catch up to the Democrats in the blogosphere.

I’ll let Stacy McCain explain (who was also quoted in the article):

That kind of ”more bang for the buck” approach is one I’ve discussed often with other bloggers — including my buddy Jimmie Bise Jr. of Sundries Shack – and yet it seems impossible to get people to listen. The strategic payoff of Rule 2 is to spread the linky-love around and build up the newer and/or smaller blogs, so that the conservative ’sphere has a broader reach and a deeper base.

[...]

Dan’s comment about the relationship between conservative institutions and the blogosphere deserves a post of its own, but I’ll briefly say this: There is a notable tendency of all organizations on the Right to hire buttoned-down, strait-laced College Republican types. There is a glaring disconnect between these GOP clonebots and the conservative blogosphere, which tends to attract hell-raisers, wild cards and loose cannons who don’t like being told what to say and do.

That about sums things up!

Da TechGuy
weighed in with his two cents, which may be more than he made after getting up at 5:00 AM to cover a political event 95 miles from his home. Stacy McCain expanded on his thoughts in a new post, which is also worth reading.