The Washington Post today carries a story describing a group of left-wing liberals with deep pockets looking to fund liberal think tanks and projects, in an effort to make left-wing policies and thought more appealing, and with perhaps a more sound philosophical foundation. This is all well and good, as there are certainly a number of well-funded conservative think tanks and policy groups, such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, that have had a great influence on political thought. Balancing that with thoughtful liberal policy options is what the process in America is all about.
Except there are three problems.
An alliance of nearly a hundred of the nation's wealthiest donors is roiling Democratic political circles, directing more than $50 million in the past nine months to liberal think tanks and advocacy groups in what organizers say is the first installment of a long-term campaign to compete more aggressively against conservatives.
A year after its founding, Democracy Alliance has followed up on its pledge to become a major power in the liberal movement. It has lavished millions on groups that have been willing to submit to its extensive screening process and its demands for secrecy.
But the large checks and demanding style wielded by Democracy Alliance organizers in recent months have caused unease among Washington's community of Democratic-linked organizations. The alliance has required organizations that receive its endorsement to sign agreements shielding the identity of donors. Public interest groups said the alliance represents a large source of undisclosed and unaccountable political influence.
Democracy Alliance also has left some Washington political activists concerned about what they perceive as a distinctly liberal tilt to the group's funding decisions. Some activists said they worry that the alliance's new clout may lead to groups with a more centrist ideology becoming starved for resources.
Democracy Alliance was formed last year with major backing from billionaires such as financier George Soros and Colorado software entrepreneur Tim Gill. The inspiration, according to founders, was a belief that Democrats became the minority party in part because liberals do not have a well-funded network of policy shops, watchdog groups and training centers for activists equivalent to what has existed for years on the right.
Problem #1: Secrecy of the donors? Sure, this is a group of private donors funding private organizations, but their aim is for public policy influence. If you want to influence public policy, shouldn't your funding sources, i.e., those seeking that public policy influence, be public knowledge? One of the prime alternatives to McCain-Feingold in political financing was for unlimited donations, but immediate and complete disclosure of all donations, with even the members of PACs identified. Sure, money can influence politics; it has a much more sinister influence when its origin is hidden.
Problem #2: More liberal = more funding? This is a part of what I've called in the past the "culture of arrogance." Conservatives in particular, but centrists also, are simply stupid. They simply can't comprehend the brilliance of far left ideology, and therefore if only the proponents of that far-left ideology had more money to push it, they'd succeed. But neither of these premises is true. Conservatives and centrists are not "simply stupid." They've looked in detail at the left's ideas, looked at the history of those ideas in action, and looked at the denial of human nature and the desire for freedom necessary to make them happen, and found them lacking in all areas. All the money in the world will not be able to change those facts, and that history. Benevolent coercion "for the betterment of society" is still coercion.
Problem #3: The success of the conservative think tanks and other organizations has not been due to their funding, or their organization, it's been due to their ideas. And those ideas tend toward a general distrust of government intervention in the lives of the governed, a general belief that capitalism with a market economy is the most efficient and effective way of distributing and utilizing resources, with the greatest potential for betterment of the human condition through economic growth, and toward the realization that the goal of men and women to live their lives in freedom is at the heart of all mankind. Those are hard ideas to argue against.
But, have at it. I'll listen listen to your argument, then dissect it.
Cross posted at The Right Place