‘Payola Pundit’ Doug Bandow Admits ‘Mistake’ But Rationalizes What He Did

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By: E&P Staff

Ex-columnist Doug Bandow, in an Op-Ed piece posted today on LATimes.com, said he “made a mistake” taking money from lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But he also rationalized his behavior, writing that “the ethical boundaries in all this aren’t always obvious.”

Bandow — who resigned last month from Copley News Service and the Cato Institute — stated in the Times piece: “My deal with Abramoff created an appearance of a conflict of interest; it made it seem that I spoke for him (or his clients) rather than for myself when I wrote. That was a mistake, and I’m paying a high price. Fair enough.”

But, he added, “this episode ought to do more; it ought to spur a serious discussion about the punditry game. After all, isn’t it a little unseemly for Washington to be suddenly shocked, shocked at the fact that those with interests in what government does (such as Abramoff and his clients) seek out like-minded advocates (such as me and hundreds of other commentators and organizations)?”

Bandow said that, over the years, he “created a patchwork of jobs. I ghostwrote Op-Ed articles, drafted political speeches, prepared internal corporate briefings and strategized business media campaigns. All the while, I also wrote commentary and opinion pieces. Clearly, the ethical boundaries in all this aren’t always obvious. Virtually everyone I worked with or wrote for had an ax to grind.”

The ex-columnist also said: “How can we be sure that newspapers keep advertisers out of news decisions? Don’t broadcast media hire consultants and pollsters to contribute to their news coverage, people who could benefit financially from promoting the ideas of their other clients? And haven’t reporters sometimes pocketed thousands of dollars speaking at conventions or corporate events and then covered those businesses — or their issues — in one way or another?”

Returning to his own payola scandal, Bandow said: “I never took a position contrary to my beliefs. … [But] it was stupid because it created an appearance that would bring all of my work into potential disrepute. And the appearance was made worse by Abramoff’s other shenanigans. But it’s silly to suggest that $1,000 or so would buy my opinion. I’m pro-drug legalization, antiabortion, pro-market, and antiwar. I dislike, rather than love or hate, President Bush. I have repeated these positions in hundreds of articles over the years.”

The libertarian Bandow — whose receiving of payola was revealed by BusinessWeek.com — has already landed another job. This past Sunday, he became vice president of policy at Citizen Outreach, an organization “focused on limited-government public policies.”

Bandow is one of several conservative commentators who, in a series of 2005 revelations, were found to have accepted money to promote programs and initiatives without disclosing the funding. They include Armstrong Williams of Tribune Media Services (which dropped Williams), Maggie Gallagher of Universal Press Syndicate, and the self-syndicated Michael McManus.

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