Nothing in DC Is Worth Your Money

Recently by Gary North: Uncle Sam Is Choking on Data



The Washington Beltway is a war zone. It is the battleground over what the United States government does and what it does not do. It does a great deal.

Conservatives send tens of millions of dollars each year to Beltway resistance organizations. Some of them are called think tanks. They are dedicated mainly to getting the federal government to do other things, or else to do evil things without spending as much money. These organizations promote this idea: “Running government like a business.” Whenever you hear this, think of a serious business: Cosa Nostra.

I am going to show you a simple technique to keep from wasting your money by donating it to an ineffective Beltway resistance organization. Go to its Website and read half a dozen of its press releases. See if the outfit has links to newspapers that published the release. If there are none, then the press release was useless as an opinion-changer. It was useful only as a fund-raiser.

This is the key fact that one one has told you: Most press releases are written in order to raise funds from politically naive donors.

I am about to analyze a press release. It was issued by an obscure right-wing outfit that pulls in millions of dollars of donations each year. It is no better and no worse than most such outfits. They accomplish nothing politically. They provide high incomes for their senior employees.

If you will use my analysis as a model to learn what to look for in a fund-raising press release vs. an public opinion-changing press release, you will save yourself money.


I offer a supreme challenge: before you donate money to a Beltway resistance organization, find verifiable evidence that its position papers and press releases have ever stopped any bill from becoming law. Yes, it opposed some bill that did not pass way back when, but what you cannot find is that this outfit was responsible for stopping the bill from becoming law.

I am not talking about a single-issue organization that represents a voting bloc, such as gun owners. These single-issue outfits mobilize grass roots support that can stop a bill from becoming law. I am talking about a broad-ranged conservative outfit that produces lots of position papers and press releases. These outfits have zero effect on what happens on Capitol Hill, let alone what gets published in the Federal Register‘s 82,000 pages each year.

I was in Washington in 1976, when I was on Ron Paul’s staff. These outfits had no effect then, either. But there were fewer of them. They absorbed less money.

The single greatest conservative political victory in the last 40 years was stopping the Equal Rights Amendment. Phyllis Schlafly did that. Her Eagle Forum is not headquartered in Washington. It is in Alton, Illinois. The ERA was not defeated in Washington. It was defeated in state legislatures. It was a grass roots opposition. We read on Wiki:

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution. The ERA was originally written by Alice Paul and, in 1923, it was introduced in the Congress for the first time. In 1972, it passed both houses of Congress and went to the state legislatures for ratification. The ERA failed to receive the requisite number of ratifications before the final deadline mandated by Congress of June 30, 1982 expired and so it was not adopted.

The best statement ever written on how little effect Beltway resistance has achieved was written by Paul Weyrich in 1999. He was the most effective Beltway resister there ever was. He founded the Free Congress Foundation and the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress. Here is his assessment after three decades of fund-raising.

In looking at the long history of conservative politics, from the defeat of Robert Taft in 1952, to the nomination of Barry Goldwater, to the takeover of the Republican Party in 1994, I think it is fair to say that conservatives have learned to succeed in politics. That is, we got our people elected.

But that did not result in the adoption of our agenda. The reason, I think, is that politics itself has failed. And politics has failed because of the collapse of the culture. The culture we are living in becomes an ever-wider sewer. In truth, I think we are caught up in a cultural collapse of historic proportions, a collapse so great that it simply overwhelms politics.

The war will not won or lost inside the Beltway. It will won or lost at the grass roots level in the souls of men. For most political purposes, it will be won or lost over the battle between two commandments.

Thou shalt not steal.Thou shalt not steal, except by majority vote.


With this in mind, let me examine a single press release. This press release was written for only one reason: to justify to donors the high salaries of the senior employees. It says: “See this? We’re active.”

Here is an unbreakable rule: Any outfit that issues boring press releases should not be supported. If the press releases are filled with inside-the-Beltway jargon, you can be sure that the entire outfit is useless to everyone except the overpaid senior staff.

This press release is aimed at earmarks. Earmarks are pure pork. They are riders to bills, usually unrelated to the bill. They spend money in home districts. They will never end. That’s what Washington wants: pork. That’s what voters want.

To read a pretty good press release on pork, see this.

In stark contrast is the following press release. It was sent to media outlets, which ignored it. It had zero effect. No one who has any experience in Washington could imagine anything else. This is just an exchange of digits: press release for donations. The outfit can tell its donors that it is Doing Something Important, and the donors can fall for it. The futility of all this should be apparent.

This press release is written in BeltwaySpeak. I have modified the names. It begins:

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Joe Schmoe, president of the Council for Absorbing Naive Conservative Donors’ Funds, sent a letter to the United States House and Senate, urging lawmakers to resist the temptation to end the ongoing earmark moratorium. The letter, which came in response to reports that Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) has proposed a return to earmarking, reads in part:

“While any earmark would have been enough to prove that Congress violated the earmark moratorium that was established in the House and Senate at the beginning of the 112th Congress, there are many such examples that will be highlighted in CAGW’s 2012 Congressional Pig Book which will be released on April 17. The 2012 Pig Book will show that while the practice of earmarking still lingers, Congress has made significant progress toward reducing the number and cost of earmarks.

Can you imagine any newspaper running a story filled with this verbal sludge? Of course not. The press release is targeted at naive donors, not the media.

“Taxpayers often hear from their elected officials that earmarks are good and bring back federal dollars to their district.

Taxpayers know nothing about earmarks. They don’t know their Congressman’s name, let alone know about earmarks.

Historically, approximately 60 percent of earmarks has gone to the majority party, while 40 percent has gone to the minority party. Awarding taxpayer funds on the basis of political power instead of merit is a deceptive practice that encourages backroom deal-making, vote swapping, and other political game-playing.

So? What else is new? What else has been new since (say) 1789?

“In addition to inviting fraudulent behavior, earmarking diverts lawmakers’ attention from important national business, like controlling the nation’s ballooning $15.6 trillion debt. At one point, many congressional offices had one or more staffers dedicated solely to procuring earmarks.

“Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) have sponsored S. 1930, the Earmark Elimination Act, which is intended to build upon and make permanent the current earmark moratorium that is set to expire at the end of 2012. Unfortunately, this legislation, which was offered as an amendment to the STOCK Act in February, failed in a 40 to 59 vote.

“Congress has made significant progress under the current earmark moratorium. I strongly urge you to support S. 1930 and work with your colleagues to ensure that earmarks never return. Any attempt to revive the practice of earmarking will be detrimental to taxpayers, members of Congress, and to the entire legislative process. The earmark ban has already given lawmakers more time to devote their attention to critical issues instead of to special interests, and has saved taxpayers billions of dollars that would otherwise be squandered on frivolous projects.”

The low-level staffer who composed this pathetic press release ought to be fired. That the president of the outfit would pretend to have written it indicates that he also ought to be fired.

Then there is this tag, which is puffery to impress naive donors.

The Council for Absorbing Naive Conservative Donors’ Funds (CANCDF) is the lobbying arm of Citizens in Favor of Mindless Donating, the nation’s largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government.

The outfit publishes useful statistics on government waste. Fine. But for that, it could be run from Boondocksville, Indiana (or Alton, Illinois). It would take a total staff of eight people: three researchers, a secretary, a fund-raiser, a president, an accountant, and a skilled person to write press releases that newspapers might actually run. But nobody would donate to it. “It’s clearly not relevant. It’s headquarters are in Boondocksville, Indiana.” So, the outfit hires lots of people, gets a Beltway address, and sends out press releases like this one.

It has not worked to stop earmarks. It will not work. But the senior employees will have lifetime careers. And donors feel good. Their money is helping to “roll back waste in government.”

This never ends. It’s symbiosis. It’s all about this.

April 7, 2012

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

Copyright © 2012 Gary North