OP-ED PAYOLA… As Shakespeare’s Sister notes, taking money from Jack Abramoff in exchange for writing newspaper columns supporting the lobbyist’s clients, which Cato Institute scholar Doug Bandow has admitted doing, is rather more than a “lapse of judgment,” considering the practice went on for nearly a decade. But at least Bandow had the common decency to admit that what he did was wrong. And Cato had the common sense to accept his resignation. Others in the right-wing think tank world can’t seem to see the obvious intellectual squalor in this sort of arrangement. “If somebody pinned me down and said, ‘Do you think this is wrong or unethical?’ I’d say no,” says Tom Giovanetti, president of the Institute for Policy Innovation. Giovanetti was referring to the behavior of the institute’s Peter Ferarra, who also took money from Abramoff in exchange for op-ed pieces advocating for the lobbyist’s clients and is similarly unapologetic.

This blithe attitude tells you something about how deviancy has been defined down in conservative Washington. As with cocaine use in the 1980s, respectable conservatives today simply don’t understand that what they’re doing is wrong since all their friends are doing it too.

Steve Clemons was the first brave soul in the DC think tank industry to blow the whistle on the corruption of think tanks (his thoughts on the resignation of Bandow, who happens to be his friend, here). Josh Marshall has also written some devastating posts on the op-ed payola racket in recent years. And both Clemons and Marshall were generous in helping The Washington Monthly’s Nick Confessore break the story of how James Glassman’s online magazine Tech Central Station is actually a front for the GOP lobbying powerhouse DCI. But you get the sense that all these stories of expert-opinion payola are like mushrooms that sprout up for a few days and disappear, and that below the surface there is a massive rotten tangled underworld waiting to be exposed.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.