Huffpost Homepage
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

David Sirota Headshot

GOP Front Group Exposes Its Own Corruption & the Right's Fraying Coalition

Posted: Updated:

The National Association of Manufacturers purports to represent America's domestic industrial manufacturers - you know, the factories that Washington's economic policies are trying to destroy. Thus, you may expect such an organization to be constantly railing on the Establishment. In fact, it's exactly the opposite - the organization is increasingly being exposed as a corrupt, partisan wing of the Republican apparatus whose leadership often uses NAM's resources against the interests of the majority of NAM's own members.

Last year, Businessweek reported that NAM's leader, former Michigan Republican Gov. John Engler, has been refusing to use NAM's enormous Washington clout to pressure Congress to stop pushing forward with lobbyist-written trade policies hurting domestic manufacturers (a.k.a. NAM members). The abuse got so bad that "in a surprise revolt, smaller NAM members showed up in droves at a meeting of the group's trade-policy committee to out-vote larger members," first forcing the organization to endorse legislation cracking down on Chinese currency manipulation, and soon creating a whole new drive for a spin-off organization specifically to challenge NAM's corruption.

Now this week, we are being treated to another example of NAM publicly working against its own members. On its website, NAM broadcast a breathless, hysterical blog post cheering the Senate's move Monday to prevent American employers and manufacturers from importing lower-priced, FDA-approved medicines from Canada. NAM rehashes the previously debunked RNC talking points about drugs from Canada supposedly being unsafe, even though the Bush administration's own FDA officials have told Congress that it has absolutely no evidence to support such a claim. But the lying about the issue is not what's important here - NAM's position against drug importation stands in direct conflict with the majority of its members' interests.

Allowing American employers to purchase lower-priced medicines from abroad would save employers' substantial sums on the health benefits they offer. You may recall that medicine prices are a major factor in the increase in overall health care costs - costs that are hitting employers (a.k.a. NAM members) hard. Importation would finally exert some downward pressure on those prices, potentially saving industrial manufacturers billions of dollars.

But, as we've seen, NAM is not really interested in representing its members anymore - it is interested in being an arm of the Republican Party. And thus, even though NAM is not the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers Association (the trade association for pharmaceutical companies), it is nonetheless using its clout to help PhRMA, a fellow Republican Party outfit, even though such help works to keep NAM members' health care costs high. You may say that well, NAM has a few pharmaceutical company members of its own and thus its position against drug importation was acceptable. But remember, those pharmaceutical members are far outnumbered in NAM by other companies that would save huge amounts of money on their health care costs if Senators hadn't cast votes against drug importation - votes that NAM's leadership cheered.

What's funny is that NAM likely didn't realize it was exposing its own corruption when it went forward with this statement against drug importation. Many purportedly "grassroots" organizations in Washington have become entirely used to ignoring their own members in order to engage in the Beltway's pay-to-play culture of corruption. But as the Businessweek story showed, these members may, in fact, be waking up to the fact that their supposed leaders are selling them out. And if that awakening happens, it's bad news for business as usual inside the nation's capital.

We can already see the tell-tale signs of the conservative coalition fraying apart, its inherent hypocrisies mutating into fault lines much like they are at NAM. It started right after the 2004 election on the most core conservative issue: taxes. Here's The New York Times from 11/23/04:

"Even though it will be months before President George W. Bush proposes an overhaul of the income tax laws, key Republican groups are already divided about how -- or even whether -- to proceed. Economic conservatives share an ideological belief in flattening income tax rates and eliminating as many tax preferences as possible. And business groups want to preserve tax breaks for research, oil drilling, health insurance, equipment leasing and scores of other purposes.Christian conservatives want to promote charitable deductions, and may want to defend tax breaks for married couples with children. 'People are not going to give the kind of support necessary for tax reform that leaves the investor class untaxed,' said Land, who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Commission. 'That is not going to be politically viable,' he added."

Then in the lead up to the 2006 election it got even worse. Here's The New York Times from 10/20/06:

"Tax-cutters are calling evangelicals bullies. Christian conservatives say Republicans in Congress have let them down. Hawks say President Bush is bungling the war in Iraq. And many conservatives blame Representative Mark Foley's sexual messages to teenage pages...polls show broad disaffection at the grass roots...[Economic conservative leader Dick] Armey said catering to [Christian right leader James] Dobson and his allies had led the party to abandon budget-cutting. And he said Christian conservatives could cost Republicans seats around the country."

And by February 2007, the feuds had spilled over onto the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal. Now, not only were religious and economic conservatives fighting, but economic conservatives started fighting with themselves in intra-faction combat. Conservative anti-tax icon and longtime Washington insider Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth penned a scathing article berating local grassroots groups for having the nerve to push for better investment in public infrastructure:

"In as many as half the states, state taxpayer organizations, free market think tanks and small business leaders now complain bitterly that, on a wide range of issues, chambers of commerce deploy their financial resources and lobbying clout to expand the taxing, spending and regulatory authorities of government."

These battles are long overdue, and they pit local grassroots groups in the heartland against the Washington insiders who purport to lead a grassroots conservative movement, but often behave as if they are deliberately waging a war on their own grassroots members. How it ultimately plays out is anyone's guess - but it's about time the corrupt, right-wing Beltway Establishment feel the backlash from the country it has been selling out.