Akbar: Avlon Attack on Palin and SarahPAC Misses the Mark

Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin (Photo Credit: AP)

Sarah Palin is looking to take on Washington’s GOP consultant class in the 2014 mid-term cycle, launching an emotionally powerful video and note from her PAC’s Treasurer.

If you’re familiar with the typical methodology surrounding the activities of the specific party committees (NRSC, NRCC, RSLC) or party candidate recruitment, you heard specific points of strategy. If you are in the established consulting class, you probably got nervous. The general public heard a general rallying call.

Activist-Journalist John Avlon bills himself as a centrist, while consistently attacking Republicans, went after SarahPAC today erroneously.

As far as Palin’s impact is concerned, just ask Senators Ted Cruz, Tim Scott, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, Deb Fischer, and Governors Nikki Haley and Susana Martinez. You could also ask non-Senators David Dewhurst, Charlie Crist, Trey Grayson, the late Arlen Specter, and non-Governor Henry McMaster. A Palin endorsement mobilizes donations, volunteer recruitment and, most importantly, name-ID for underdog challengers.

No Labels co-founder Avlon has always talked past his own expertise, but this time he has really done it. Avlon takes a cheap jab, “Palin’s PAC spent $5.1 million in the last election cycle (more than it raised in that time period, raising some questions about Palin’s claims of fiscal responsibility).” Avalon misses, not understanding that PACs are required to measure and assign value not only to all expenditures, but efforts “in-kind,” and anything that can legally be defined as “electioneering” must be reported as an expenditure. This is poor journalism at best, while we may suspect it as a malicious attempt to “punch up.”  Avlon needs to do his homework before opining.

Palin’s multi-candidate PAC maxes out to each candidate they endorse, as per the Federal Election Commission’s rules, at $5,000 a pop per election (primary, run-off, generals counting as separate “elections”).

PACs then usually spend what are referred to as IEs, independent expenditures. Is Avlon arguing that the GOP needs to spend more money on useless TV ads, like those of Karl Rove’s Crossroads? On talk radio that he so frequently bashes? If so, he should stick to his own business. Every consultant will tell you that the value of Palin and having her PAC behind you is Palin herself! The value in the brand is that she is a high-profile figure whose endorsement garners more media hits and grassroots donations than an endorsement from anyone else in the center-right movement. The PAC invests in maintaining that brand so that candidates, many now sitting in office, can enjoy the benefits largely unique to SarahPAC. Anything else would be a waste of dollars and  decrease the ability of grassroots challengers to win.

Consultants design websites, store data and lists, arrange the travel, vet the candidates, write the talking points, run crisis communications, and well, everything else. There are seldom “employees” on campaigns. Politics is always changing — campaigns are non-permanent institutions funded by limited donor contributions. Worker bees, hired as 1099 contractors? We’re all “consultants” in the broadest definition of the term.

What Palin is going after is specific elite category of the consultant class: Those who reap millions of dollars for controlling votes, for building candidates, for brokering bad deals, for finding awful consensus instead of fighting for victory.

A culture has been brewing in DC since the 1980s. The establishment has always existed, but the systematic and structural powers of “The Establishment” have increased within the upper tiers of Republican mega-consultants. Well, that was until the Tea Party and Sarah Palin. Palin’s war is with the consultant class, not all consultants. It’s the difference between a de facto institution and a description. Between a noun and an adjective. This is all pretty basic stuff, unless you’re pushing straw men arguments for a living.

Sarah Palin is right, “the last thing we need is D.C. vetting our candidates.” And the junior Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, was completely accurate in explaining, “I would not be in the U.S. Senate today if it were not for Governor Sarah Palin.”

There are factually accurate ways to disagree with Sarah Palin. Avlon’s column Friday misses the mark.
Ali A. Akbar is a Partner with Vice and Victory Agency, a digital marketing firm which caters to center-right organizations, campaigns, and select internet-based startups. He also serves as President of the National Bloggers Club and has been at the forefront of many grassroots movements over the past half decade