It’s been going on since the 1970s, really picked up in the 80s, the 90s saw an even faster increase, and in the past decade, well, there are now so many right-of-center political organizations they can’t be counted. It’s easy to assume the rate will stabilize because eventually there won’t be any more people to create yet another Republican or conservative organization.
They come in all shapes and sizes. There are big national level think tanks with massive budgets. State level think tanks range from the big (well funded so a lot of paid staff) to the garage band size or one-man shows which nevertheless produce fine materials.
Issue advocacy organizations form either as 501c3 or 501c4 non-profits, and they differ in size and shape as well. Federal and state level political action committees abound, and the better connected ones raise so much money you’d think they’d be able to create world peace. Others flounder with small dollars but often the help they provide to candidates is greatly appreciated.
Then there are right-of-center websites which can either exist with a former legal structure or can merely be a place on the web that has a name. My “Dispatches” website as of now is such a site. I don’t run ads, don’t raise money, and while I might eventually make it a legal entity, right now I have no plans to do so.
There are also, of course, countless tea party and patriot type groups. Again, they vary in size and some only exist as informal associations without even a bank account. I know of groups of citizens who don’t consider themselves “tea party” or “patriot” groups but their desire is to make an impact.
To set the record straight, I’ve been involved more than once in the formation of a non-profit or pac. I’m not “anti-organization-creation.” The more the merrier. The problem is, though, that too few of these (now countless) organizations have as their chief task outreach to the uninformed.
Many readers of this column who consider themselves a member or funder or employee of one of these groups will balk at that assertion. They see their effort as being all about political evangelism. The key to getting to the facts, however, is to ask them — what exactly the group’s outreach activities consist of. Some of the responses might include laudable things, others will merely be well intentioned and obviously ineffective, and others will border on active pretending.
Private sector businesses measure success by profits. Non-political not-for-profits measure success by the number of people helped (etc.). Political campaigns by votes. Right of center political organizations mostly measure success by how many donors can be accumulated (and thus how large the budget) or by how good the participants feel about being involved.
Finally within the past few years my all time favorite think tank, the Heritage Foundation, formed a sister organization “Heritage Action.” Outreach and encouraging activism is Action’s goal, while the Foundation merely produces volumes of materials too few people ever learn about. I applaud the creation of Heritage Action — but, and this will no doubt alienate some readers — I’d argue they’re just doing more of the same types of activities all the while thinking it’ll produce a different result.
Holding meetings or events for “choir members” and sending emails or writing reports too often substitutes for real political activism. Similarly, so does creating yet another organization. I’ve even known a guy who once had six or eight organizations and he couldn’t keep them straight. After closing a couple of them he started yet another one. He received satisfaction not from actual political success but from being surrounded by what amounted to empty organizations of his own creation.
From my many years of experience in and around politics it’s clear to me that many people create an organization because they don’t know what else to do. Some folks who have created one don’t exactly know what to do with the organization once it’s formed. They seem content to believe they’re making an impact just by its sheer existence.
I’m not arguing that there aren’t still new types of organizations needed. I just wish that more of the ones already in existence were actively engaged in the information war by reaching the uninformed masses with the facts.
Let’s close on a related humorous note. Here’s one of my favorite The Onion articles of all time:
(First published November 2003)