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March 23, 2005

Allison Responds

Bill Allison responds in the comments to the post below:

Ryan,

We responded largely because you and others were inaccurately claiming that the Center for Public Integrity is not independent, that we lobby, or that we try to hoodwink public officials. We don't do any of that, and we felt the need to set the record straight.

In our view, Kent Cooper's study is flawed because he claims that we have gotten money to push campaign finance reform, whereas the purpose of our grants is to do things like code hundreds of thousands of public records, put them in a database and post them on our Web site so anyone can use them. The amount of money we've gotten to push campaign finance reform is $0. And what's worse is that Kent knows this.

I also note that you haven't told your readers that I invited you down to the Center's offices in Washington, D.C., to review our records. I also sent you documentation showing that some of the grants Kent listed are inaccurate -- I never said that I was sending you every inaccuracy, but rather said I was tired of looking and that if you wanted more examples of how wildly wrong PoliticalMoneyLine was, you'd have to come down to D.C. and look through the records yourself.

Incidentally, and just an aside -- are public schools much worse today than they were when I was a kid? While you may think that reporting on conflict diamonds and international arms smugglers is lobbying for campaign finance reform (as our International Consortium does) I trust that some people who visit your blog have better reading comprehension skills.

In any case, if you recall, I sent you some documentation to prove our statement that Kent's study was inaccurate; I pointed out several hundred thousand dollars worth of inaccuracies from a single funder. Now, maybe PoliticalMoneyLine is only slightly wrong, or maybe they're off by much more -- the point is you don't know and it's smarmy of you to imply the contrary, or to say that even if your source was off by 50 percent or more, it's okay to use him. I know that you don't have a great deal of experience, but maybe one of your editors at the Post can explain this to you: When someone points out an inaccuracy in material you relied on, the proper thing to do is to withhold further comment until you have all the facts, and not to insist that the faulty information you have is still accurate. And, FYI, you're not the first journo to be hoodwinked by a source, so don't feel too terrible about it.

And while we're on the subject of accuracy, perhaps in your next post you could supply some evidence (you know, documents, and the like) to your readers to back up your contention that the Center is a "supposedly independent pro-reform group." You can't, because it's simply not true.

Finally, since you're such a fan of transparency, why haven't you answered any of the questions I posed to you in the last email I sent you? Just answer these: Was your initial column on this subject your idea, or was it something assigned to you? Are you a subscriber to PoliticalMoneyLine (cost: about $1200 a year)? If not, how did you get the study you relied on? Did someone send you the information and ask you to write about it?

If you made the pitch, do you have any documentation to back it up? Emails between you and your editor? Do you have credit card receipts showing your subscription to PoliticalMoneyLine? Does the Post subscribe and, if so, is there a research librarian or editor there who can tell us that you have access to the service?

Let's not forget -- when you write for TechCentralStation, you're writing for a news outlet published by a lobbying firm. (It's nice to see that you have enough of an ethical sense to consider that a dig--I wasn't sure you'd regard it as such when I wrote it.) Given that, I think a little disclosure from you would be in order here, don't you? Or is it your position that disclosure is fine for a nonpartisan group with a 15-year track record, dozens of national journalism awards, and the respect of your peers at the New York Post, but the august and well-respected Ryan Sager writing for a lobbying firm is entirely above suspicion?

I do agree with one thing you said -- it's a mystery to me too why I thought responding to you was worth the effort. Live and learn, I guess.

Best regards,

Bill

Needless to say, a journalist has no responsibility to reveal sources -- but I'm glad he's so interested in how The Post found out about this.

Furthermore, no one has been "hoodwinked" by Political Money Line. They made very clear that they were assuming ALL grants from the eight major foundations they identified were assumed to be related to campaign-finance reform -- an assumption the grantees could clear up if they wished to provide full information on the grants' purposes. A lot of the grantees seem to have provided PML with full information, and for them every grant is accounted for in the PML report. Center for Public Integrity did not do this, so there are still blanks to be filled in.

Kent Cooper has said he's willing to update his online database as new information becomes available -- so there's no inaccuracy here, there's incomplete disclosure from groups such as CPI, which is still being cleared up.

I’m traveling today, so that’s it for now.

Comments

Explain to me how answering whether or not you or your newspaper has a subscription to PoliticalMoneyLine is violating the confidintiality of a source?

And why should CPI have to go through correcting the misperceptions of a for-profit competitor that they disagree with on many issues? PML just doesn't seem like a reliable source, and to use them without disclosing that they are not reliable source seems like National Enquirer style journalism.

> And why should CPI have to go through correcting the misperceptions of a for-profit competitor

Because CPI is a non-profit it has greater obligations. Don't like it? Start paying taxes.

> the purpose of our grants is to do things like code hundreds of thousands of public records, put them in a database and post them on our Web site so anyone can use them.

And that's not politics because CPI doesn't pick the kind of records that would advance a particular political agenda....

And, they're not to be damned for taking money from a tainted source because they're good people.

Andy,

There's nothing under the law or ethics that requires nonprofits to disclose that level of detail. Ryan Sager is just smearing them with unreliable data, and they've shown enough to say the data is unreliable, so why should they have to do more.

Ryan's responsibility as a journalist is to get the story right, and they don't have any obligation to help him.

Plus, I just don't see how publishing data on contributions is lobbying.

CPI may not have a legal obligation, but that can change as we see what non-profits do with their tax advantage. Their "ethics", conduct that they'll defend in public, argue for such a change.

> Plus, I just don't see how publishing data on contributions is lobbying.

As I pointed out, selection matters. (CPI doesn't report all contributions, it only reports monetary ones, which is an extremly political point of view.) And, data on lobbying is not all that CPI does.

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