- - Thursday, March 5, 2015


Outrage over the revelation of Hillary Clinton’s exclusive use of her personal email during her time at the State Department has brought broad-based criticism from the entire political spectrum. (In fact, it was the lefty New York Times that broke the story.)

However, one group has remained curiously silent on the matter: the so-called “watchdogs” at the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

CREW, which claims to be a nonpartisan group, gained notoriety for filing complaints against Republican politicians and conservative groups (including my own). They will occasionally go after a token Democrat who is already drowning in indictments to maintain the appearance of evenhanded treatment. But while equal numbers of conservative and liberal groups lost their Internal Revenue Service nonprofit status between 2003 and 2010, all 17 of CREW’s IRS complaints were directed at right-leaning organizations.

CREW lost even its fig leaf of bipartisanship when it announced last year that notorious Democratic operative and Media Matters founder David Brock would become the chairman of its board. The current silence of CREW amid the dust-up over Hillary is embarrassingly telling.

Consider: In 2007, CREW was a vocal critic of the George W. Bush administration when there was a similar case of missing emails. Then-Executive Director Melanie Sloan told CNN, “The biggest problem here is really that here is a White House that is deliberately violating an existing statute that requires them to preserve all records .”

With such strong words for the Bush White House, you’d think CREW would be equally incensed about Mrs. Clinton’s apparent transgressions against the same law. But you’d be wrong. After ducking a Huffington Post reporter looking for comment, CREW’s spokesman put out a weasel-worded statement pointing out that “Secretary Clinton is not the first agency head to go without an official email account.”

Conservatives should pocket that “all the kids are doing it” excuse for possible future use.

CREW has been practicing a double standard for years, with a lot more slack from the media than they’re receiving now. Despite condemning right-leaning organizations for not disclosing their donors, CREW is outspoken about the necessary secrecy for their anonymous funders. Ms. Sloan once told reporters, “I wouldn’t have any donors if I revealed all my donors.” It’s the CREW version of chutzpah.

And that’s not the worst of it. A report last year released from the Center for Consumer Freedom (full disclosure: My company manages this nonprofit) connected the dots of a suspected pay-for-play arrangement between CREW and big-money liberal donors in the for-profit college industry. CREW’s response to the report was predictable: “[We] do not discuss our funders.”

Of course, I’m a bit biased here: CREW and I have a long history — they launched a website critical of my company, and we’ve exchanged barbs on television and in op-eds. So it’s a fitting coda to our contentious relationship that I discovered recently that Melanie Sloan has left the “watchdog” world to open a firm that sounds quite a bit like the companies she likes to criticize. Called “Triumph Strategy,” and with a website straight out of 1995, it boasts of using “aggressive tactics [to] maximize the impact of your message on policy makers, shareholders, regulators and the public-at-large.” Elsewhere, Ms. Sloan and her partner offer to use their “relationships with good government and corporate reform communities” to help navigate the use of “corporate funds to impact political outcomes.”

Ms. Sloan is entitled to make money, as is Mr. Brock at the helm of CREW’s board. But the media and the public are no longer entitled to view them as nonpartisan do-gooders. They’re no longer flawed “watchdogs,” but instead, obviously “lapdogs” for the Democratic Party.

Richard Berman is president of Berman and Co., a Washington public affairs firm.

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