One of the main reasons so many members of Congress become lobbyists after they leave office is that there just aren't that many high-level opportunities available to them where they can use what they learned in office. After you've spent a bunch of time learning the ins and outs of Congress, and somebody's willing to pay you half a million dollars a year or more to put that knowledge to use, it seems to make a great deal of sense. But what if at the end of your political career, you've become, to most people, a laughingstock? And what if you're not a lawyer, so you can't practice law, and you're known for being erratic, so no one would hire you to run their interest group, and in truth you have no marketable skills at all? Then you're in a quandary, which is where Sarah Palin found herself four years ago. And you have to hand it to her: she fashioned a post-campaign career that manages to continue on no matter what setbacks she encounters, from getting her reality shows cancelled to getting dropped by Fox News.
At the center of the Palin operation is SarahPAC, which pays for her various activities and is the place where you and I can donate to her if we are so moved. John Avlon perused the PAC's FEC filings, and found something interesting: though Palin spends a lot of time railing against the GOP's consultant class, SaraPAC spends most of its money on, weirdly enough, consultants:
These are the top-line costs of life in PAC era. But the devilish details in expense reports are what makes it really come alive. Palin's chief PAC consultant, Tim Crawford, pocketed more than $321,000 this election cycle in direct payments alone, according to the documents. Aries Petra Consulting was taking in between $6,000 and $8,000 a month for speechwriting and "grassroots consulting"—something that sounds like an oxymoron, but ended up costing north of $160,000. C&M Transcontinental racked up $10,000 a month in management consulting, which is hard to imagine for a PAC whose job is simply to raise money and spend it on candidates. Inside SarahPAC, there were consultants for research and consultants for logistics and consultants for issues and on and on and on. It's hard to find any area where consultants weren't employed.
So when Palin thundered at CPAC that "Now is the time to furlough the consultants, and tune out the pollsters, send the focus groups home and throw out the political scripts, because if we truly know what we believe, we don't need professionals to tell us"—it was a riff written by speechwriters and informed by all tools she tried to diss.
Follow the money in politics and you get a glimpse of the truth. Sarah Palin wants to be a defender of the middle class while chartering $27,000 private plane flights and burning through enough cash on consultants to feed a small village for a year or two. As much as advancing a political cause, SarahPAC seems to be a lifestyle play, propping up an expensive ideological entourage.
If all you take away from this is that Sarah Palin is a hypocrite, you'll miss the larger point. Palin doesn't criticize political consultants because she believes there's something inherently wrong with political consultants. The problem is that GOP consultants tend to be of the opinion that their party should have as little as possible to do with Sarah Palin. About which, by the way, they're perfectly right. But in Palin's world, there are friends of Sarah and enemies of Sarah, and you're either one or the other, no matter what party you belong to. Her consultants are the good guys, because they're on Team Palin.
And without an office to run for or even much of a specific policy agenda—she certainly has plenty of principles, and things she dislikes, but it's not like she's campaigning to pass particular pieces of legislation—Sarah Palin's agenda is, in its entirety, Sarah Palin. When you give money to SarahPAC, you aren't producing some kind of concrete political impact in the larger world, you're basically keeping the Sarah Palin Traveling Medicine Show in business. And for many donors, that's a reason enough to give. It isn't that they think a donation to SarahPAC is the best way to, say get Obamacare repealed. They love Palin, and they want to keep hearing from her. And if she decides to spend their money on a bunch of consultants, I'm guessing they're OK with that. If that's what Sarah thinks is best, then that's what's best.
As I said, you have to hand it to her. I can't think of another political figure who gets people to give them millions of dollars just to go out and promote themselves. Check out this video the PAC just released, in which Palin disses the media (as usual), over a bunch of clips in which media figures talk about how influential she is. It's got great production values, and doesn't mention any policy issues; it's all about Sarah. And I'll bet the people who paid for it like that just fine.
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