Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Heritage Foundation's Lobbying Might

The Washington Post has just published an article on the Heritage Foundation's lobbying arm, Heritage Action.

Following are some of my favorite lines:
  • Think of Heritage Action as the Clark Kent of the conservative think tank world — as buttoned-down and statistics-laden as can be, but when the nemesis (Democrats! Liberals! Wishy-washy Republicans!) come into sight, the glasses come off and the lobbying muscles flex.
  • The 31-year-old chief executive [Mike Needham] of Heritage Action — the lobbying arm of the storied Heritage Foundation — senses victory where others see defeat.
  • Needham’s group has a distinct way to convince itself and others of its rectitude: reams of data and research from the most visible and well-funded think tank on the right.
  • And here, in part, is why Heritage Action calls itself the “new fangs” on the Heritage “beast”: It has no qualms about holding conservative members accountable to their promises — even if it risks a government shutdown.
  • In the summer of 2003, the Heritage Foundation gained its first true rival on the left as John Podesta, Clinton’s former chief of staff, launched his Center for American Progress — a big, bold progressive think tank with deep pockets and close ties to Democratic Party bigwigs. But there was a key difference: Podesta attached a political advocacy group to the traditional 501(c)3 think tank.
  • While leaders at the Heritage Foundation grudgingly admired CAP’s tactics from afar, it wasn’t until 2010 with the advent of the tea party that Heritage decided to set up its own 501(c)4.
  • In fact, Heritage Action wears much of the outside criticism as a badge of pride. When the group first launched its scorecard giving every legislator a conservative rating, some Republicans were livid about getting low marks. One member — the group declines to specify whom — even summoned [Mike] Needham, [Tim] Chapman and [Ed] Feulner to his office to explain his 77 percent rating. “Well, Mr. Congressman, the reason you have 77 percent is because you got 23 percent of the votes wrong,” Needham told him, as Chapman recalls. (DeMint got a 99 percent rating.)
  • Such friction with the Republican establishment has helped Heritage Action gain a bigger following among conservative activists just as internal turmoil has torn apart the tea party’s most prominent institutions.
  • Heritage Action is still a relatively small operation, raising $4.6 million in contributions and grants in 2011 compared with the Heritage Foundation’s $66 million, and it dipped only a toe into a handful of 2012 races. (Neither makes their donors public, but both groups say they are supported by thousands of small donors. Medvetz’s analysis shows the Heritage Foundation has also historically received major contributions from a handful of individuals.)
Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on the lobbying arms of think tanks.