Pay to Play?

A Right-Wing Group’s $400K Purchase of Mark Levin’s Book Sets Off a Ruckus

A conservative group targeting establishment GOP incumbent senators spent nearly half a million dollars buying copies of a book by conservative talk show host Mark Levin. Was it coincidence or quid pro quo?

A political group buys over $400,000 worth of copies of a book written by a radio talk show host who actively promotes their cause. Coincidence or quid pro quo?

That’s the debate that broke out across the conservative movement last week when Politico revealed that the Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF), the right wing group targeting establishment Republican senators, had spent $427,000 to buy copies of Mark Levin’s four-year-old book Liberty or Tyranny to distribute to donors. Not surprisingly, Levin is a big supporter of candidates backed by the SCF like Matt Bevin, the Tea Party challenger to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The article in and of itself didn’t cause a furor. What did raise a ruckus was when Brad Dayspring, the spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) tweeted it out, saying “WHOA! Senate Conservatives Fund spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to make Mark Levin’s book a bestseller.” That tweet created a political tempest. Levin went on the offensive, both on his radio show and on Facebook, where he posted a message saying, “Mitch McConnell’s National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) hit man, some idiot named Brad Dayspring, does not intimidate me and will not silence me with his sleazy inside-the-beltway tactics.”

This was rather measured compared to the statement of conservative pundit Erick Erickson, who runs the conservative blog Red State. He published an item sarcastically suggesting Dayspring and the NRSC “turn a blind eye to kiddie porn” because of their friendship with a GOP operative recently arrested for possessing child pornography. As Erickson wrote, “Yes, it is absolutely ridiculous to connect the NRSC and its staffers to Ryan Loskarn’s child pornography arrest. They just happen to be friends, drinking buddies, and colleagues of his. It is just as ridiculous to accuse Mark Levin and the Senate Conservatives Fund of a quid pro quo relationship when they happen to be allies in a fight and also happen to be friends.”

When not attacking Dayspring and the NRSC, Levin’s substantive defense was that these bulk purchases weren’t a big deal—although Levin had previously denied that outside groups purchase his books in bulk (which helps inflate sales numbers). His defense was that book had been out for years and sold 1.3 million copies, that the copies purchased by SCF in the past few months only represented 3 percent of that total, and that the group worked with Levin’s publisher, not the radio host, to make the arrangements.

Levin never addressed the basic allegation of a conflict of interest; that during a period when the talk show host has been actively promoting the SCF and candidates it backs, the group spent nearly half a million dollars on copies of his book. This is not inherently corrupt. After all, Levin and the SCF are ideologically simpatico and if PBS can give out totebags to donors, why shouldn’t the SCF give out copies of conservative books? Instead, the radio show host focused on what he described as Mitch McConnell’s “sleazy intimidation tactics.”

It’s worth noting that the underlying Politico article went unmentioned by Levin and his allies as well. The report was part of an expose of SCF, which also noted that the group, which has no board of directors, spent an additional $463,750 in fees to the strategic consulting firm of the SCF’s leader, longtime conservative operative Matt Hoskins.