The Magic and Beauty Of Hiding Behind Front Groups

From a great diary at Daily Kos. Industry Expert Says StopRush Has Destroyed Limbaugh’s Business For Good by Proglegs

Speaking yesterday on the Ed Schultz radio show, industry insider Holland Cooke credited a persistent online activist movement with completely destroying right wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s business model by using the very free speech that El Rushbo claims gives him carte blanche to do what he does.

The piece quotes Cooke on the Ed Show and discusses the lower ratings, Rush’s move to smaller stations and the impact of less income for Rush’s distributors and radio stations.
Cover up False Front
Being the self important Vulcan I am, I commented on the piece and my role in the process that lead to this.

Discussing the article with my friend Jeff Tiedrich of the Smirking Chimp there was some confusion.

“Wait, how does losing advertisers result in fewer listeners? Seems to me they’re two different problems?”

I explained they they were indeed separate issues. I created the Spocko Method specifically to reduce revenue in an environment where the ratings wouldn’t necessarily be impacted by an action and could even increase the ratings because of controversy.

I know that when KSFO, Savage, Beck or Limbaugh lost advertisers that didn’t necessarily mean they would lose ratings. In fact. they would keep bragging about the ratings because people were tuning in to hear the controversy. See the Streisand Effect

Higher ratings usually translate to higher ad rates. But if no one wants to advertise or sponsor the show, then high ratings are moot, especially to the people wanting to make money off of ratings. However, the ratings are still useful to people who want to push a message.

People who like a message, and want it to continue, needed to find new sponsors who love the message but are not vulnerable to pressure the way customer facing advertisers are. These new sponsors could stand behind someone who would normally be sanctioned or be fired for violating the normal HR policies found in most corporations. The groups could even support views that a huge percent of the population find offensive.

Front Groups are Magical

Front groups like the Heritage Foundation, Freedom Works and Americans For Prosperity can deflect connection and responsibility from individuals, corporations or brands who love a “no regulations ever” message, but can’t be seen supporting a sick and twisted host or his comments.

When you don’t want your brand tainted by association, you find or create a group of anonymous donors and ask them to pass money through to the messenger they don’t want to be associated with anymore.

Front groups funding right wing radio isn’t new, Politico did a piece on them funding right wing radio back in 2011. Here is another from this week. There are still reasons people and companies hide. There are marketing and brand considerations that remain.  If you, as the person driving a message, find that activists have developed and harnessed a customer facing advertiser alert programs that challenges their brand, you work to remove those sponsors identities from the equation.  Then you give them the option of funding you via the ‘cut out’ front group, like the Chamber of Commerce does. The other option is to reform the messenger, and that isn’t going to happen.

Customer facing advertisers, like the ones listed here at, had a hard time justifying sponsoring a sexist bigot who would be fired for violating all their own HR policies.  But a front group doesn’t have to answer to HR policies, brand managers, customers or shareholders.

The people who want the money to keep rolling in do suggest the host change or tone down his views to appease the sponsors, and some of that does happen behind the scenes, although they will never admit it. The current procedure is to embrace the offensive comments and look for other sponsors.

The consumer facing advertisers were, (and some still are) a weak link in the game. They could be convinced to move away from Limbaugh. However dark money doesn’t care about what anyone thinks. They can “lose” money for decades on an influential narrative shaper, because they ARE getting an ROI. The advertisers could measure their short term ROI with new sales. But the front groups don’t have those short horizon metrics.

They are earning the money that they beg for every year from donors by pointing to their cultural impact.  They have:

  • Reinforced that climate change is a hoax.
  • Positioned government health care as a terrible thing.
  • Supported a version of capitalism with no constants, no taxes and no regulation as “Uniquely American” 
  • Given their customer facing donors cover from irate employees, shareholders and potential customers who would be appalled at their real views 

And that’s the beauty of front groups.  They can do the bidding of the worst impulses of individuals and corporations. They often don’t have to disclose where the money came from or where it goes. The kind of popular pressure that would work on a person, corporation or brand, is diffused. A company can say, “We aren’t commenting on that person. We don’t sponsor them on the air.” And if they are asked if they sponsor various front groups? “That’s confidential.”

What can we do? 


I think it is really important to remember we have no power.  I think any attempts to use our brains, skills or our emotions to make the world better are worthless.

What we learned in challenging Beck, Rush and RW radio and media is now useless knowledge especially in a future battle of faceless enemies with deep pockets, teams of lawyers, and the world’s highest paid lobbyists and PR teams.

There is no money to be made in fighting. Fighting is a very impractical thing to do. And, as we have been told time and time again, it’s all about the money. The worship and love of money is the true faith of America.

When I created the Spocko Method that started this multimillion dollar hurt on RW talk radio and media, I listened to all the people who said there is nothing I could do. But I did something anyway.

With Easter coming up I’m going to quote from one of my favorite books, “The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice Cream God
Conroy, the protagonist, wrote letters to “God” and they were answered by a local mechanic.  Conroy asked why would a guy  go off to do some good works vs. a standard American path.  This was “God’s” response.

“A long time ago, what it 2000 years ago already? There was a man who said things that made the people in power look bad. They hung him on a cross. Above the cross they wrote. “INRI” The real translation of that is, “Here hangs an impractical man.”

Have a miraculous weekend.

Cross posted to FireDogLake and The Smirking Chimp

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