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Politico's Mike Allen Profiles New Initiative That Becomes Playbook Sponsor Days Later

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Mike Allen interviews U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner during Politico's 'Playbook' breakfast series event May 25, 2011, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. (AFP PHOTO/Mandel Ngan)
Mike Allen interviews U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner during Politico's 'Playbook' breakfast series event May 25, 2011, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. (AFP PHOTO/Mandel Ngan)

NEW YORK -- Politico chief White House correspondent Mike Allen wrote an article Thursday on The Campaign to Fix the Debt, a new initiative launched that day by Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.). Allen concluded his news story with a quote instructing readers that they could "learn more at www.FixTheDebt.org” and promoted the piece in his must-read morning Playbook under the heading, "COMING ATTRACTIONS."

By Monday, The Campaign to Fix the Debt was sponsoring Playbook, with the email version of the morning newsletter describing Playbook as being "presented" by the new initiative.

Campaign to Fix the Debt describes itself as a "non-partisan movement to put America on a better fiscal and economic path" by seeking to mobilize leaders in business, government and public policy. The speed at which the initiative went from being Allen's subject to Playbook's sponsor raises questions about the extent of the reporter's relationship to the group when writing on its effort days earlier. In the article, Allen did not mention any future advertising arrangement.

A Politico spokeswoman told The Huffington Post in an email that "Mike has no role in who the sponsors are for Playbook."

"That’s handled entirely by our business side, without input from Mike," she continued.

What still isn't clear from the article is why Allen provided anonymity to a "Fix the Debt official" in order to state the group's mission and describe how "our national debt is getting in the way of America investing in and excelling at so many of the things that make us great."

The official continued: "Unless we come together as a nation to fix it, the situation is only going to get worse. That’s why the bipartisan Campaign to Fix The Debt is committed to finding a solution to this urgent problem. Learn more at www.FixTheDebt.org.’”

A portion of those comments to Allen are identical to the advertising copy used in Monday's Playbook, which is below:

A message from The Campaign to Fix The Debt: Our national debt is getting in the way of America investing in and excelling at many of the things that make us great. That’s why The Campaign to Fix The Debt is urging Congress and the White House to leave partisanship at the door and come together in the coming months to find a fiscally responsible solution to avoid both the year-end Fiscal Cliff and our nation’s ever-rising debt. Sign the Citizens' Petition to Fix the Debt and demand a common sense solution to prevent disaster and renew America's economic strength. Visit www.fixthedebt.org.

Playbook is a lucrative operation for Politico and has spawned several other advertiser-sponsored morning newsletters on issues such as money, defense and energy. In a 2010 profile of Allen, The New York Times' Mark Leibovich wrote that "major retailers (Starbucks) and obscure lobbies (Catfish Farmers of America) pay $15,000 a week to advertise in Playbook, a figure that is expected to rise."

Leibovich explained in the article how organizations and companies hoping to reach influential players in politics can look to Playbook for promotion.

Political operatives I speak to tend to deploy the word “use” a lot in connection with Politico; as in, they 'use' the publication to traffic certain stories they know they could not or would not get published elsewhere. I was also struck by how freely [Politico executive editor Jim] VandeHei threw out the word 'market' in connection with how newsmakers and sources interacted with Politico. 'If you want to move data or shape opinion,' VandeHei wrote to me by e-mail, 'you market it through Mikey and Playbook, because those tens of thousands that matter most all read it and most feed it. Or you market it through someone else at Politico, which will make damn sure its audience of insiders and compulsives read it and blog about it; and that it gets linked around and talked about on TV programs.'

Disclosure: This reporter used to work at Politico and has previously written on the Washington-based news organization.

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