- - Thursday, September 18, 2014


“Read my lips, no new taxes.” “I did not have sex with that woman … .” “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” Saying one thing and doing another — it’s the way of Washington. While Americans have come to expect hypocrisy and misdirection from their politicians, the rot runs deeper than that: Even the supposed “watchdogs” are playing the D.C. game.

Consider Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the ostensibly nonpartisan group that gained notoriety for filing complaints against Republican politicians and conservative groups (including my own). Backed by funding from liberal multibillionaire George Soros and the left-wing cash clearinghouse Democracy Alliance, CREW put a thorn into the side of the right, accusing conservatives of so-called “pay-for-play” — taking money from interested businesses for advocacy. This is perfectly legal, done by both sides, and a generally accepted practice — but CREW made hay about it for partisan gain.

What would happen, though, if one of CREW’s ideological and financial allies found itself on the wrong side of the Obama administration? In 2010, the organization and two other liberal advocacy groups joined in a pile-on against a financial adviser who testified before the Senate in opposition to the for-profit education industry. Some reporters — Mike Elk (then of the American Prospect) most prominently — wondered whether CREW was taking money from the for-profit education industry on the side, in a deviation from its purported views on openness and transparency in politics.

Our investigation of Internal Revenue Service filings previously unavailable to investigating reporters indicates that CREW was taking money from the now-deceased liberal for-profit education titan (and Democracy Alliance member) John Sperling, whose company controls the University of Phoenix.

It’s a fairly convoluted scheme. Sperling’s private foundation (the Aurora Foundation) funneled funds through a network of nonprofit groups and trade associations run by California Democratic political consultant Jim Gonzalez. Sperling’s foundation gave more than $7.1 million to the Gonzalez-aligned Civic Duty Coalition, which then passed $150,000 on to CREW. Coincidentally (we’re sure), that funding came during the period when the organization took aim at critics of the for-profit education industry.

CREW wasn’t alone in this apparent pay-to-play network, but its involvement sticks out like a sore thumb. Given that the group attacks right-of-center organizations for engaging in advocacy with support of interested businesses, you’d think that CREW would have a good reason to make an exception to its own rules to play this game.

When asked by The Daily Caller to comment on these allegations, CREW only responded, “Our response to this report is that we do not discuss our funders.” Translating from Beltway-ese, the CREW crew were hypocrites, and they got caught.

In reality, no one should have been surprised that CREW was involved in a Beltway influence scheme: It always has been. Since the group’s founding, it has taken a much harder line on alleged GOP misdeeds than Democratic ones, reflecting the will of its liberal funders. To cite just one example, while equal numbers of conservative and liberal groups lost their nonprofit status between 2005 and 2009, all 17 of CREW’s IRS complaints were directed at right-leaning organizations.

CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan once told reporters, “I wouldn’t have any donors if I revealed all my donors.” We can now see an alternative reason: If Ms. Sloan revealed her donors, Americans would be able to see through CREW’s hidden agenda. Indeed, while the recent takeover of CREW by Media Matters’ David Brock has little to redeem itself, if it leads reporters to treat the group with the skepticism it has earned, the power play will be a small victory for truth in advertising.

Richard Berman is executive director at the Center for Consumer Freedom.

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