Buying Conservative Endorsements on Talk Radio

Why is it that some conservative talk radio personalities always seem to cite the same sources as authority over and over again? Is it because each one, after carefully considering the work of various think tanks and policy shops, has concluded that one outfit in particular is really the best and most reliable?  Or could it be because various conservative think thanks and policy shops are paid sponsors of some talk radio programs?  This Politico report suggests it’s the latter.  The benefits of sponsorship extend beyond promotional spots and tie-ins.  It also buys frequent on air mentions woven seemlessly into each host’s discussion of the day’s events.

The increased willingness of non-profits to write big checks for such radio endorsements – which appears to have started in 2008, when Heritage paid $1.2 million to sponsor the talk shows hosted by Hannity and Laura Ingraham – seems to be a primarily, if not entirely, a conservative phenomenon.

That’s perhaps attributable to the enduring power of talk radio on the right, as well as a newer development, the explosion of grassroots engagement by tea partiers and other newly mobilized Republican activists, which has spurred a competition for grass roots support – and contributions – among conservative groups. . . .

The groups pay the companies that distribute the hosts’ shows, and not the hosts directly, for the endorsements.

While the deals differ, most provide the sponsoring group a certain number of messages or so called “live-reads,” in which the host will use a script, outline or set of talking points to deliver an advertisement touting the group and encouraging listeners to visit its website or contribute to it.

Some sponsorship deals also include so-called “embedded ads” in which the sponsors’ initiatives are weaved into the content of the show, say sources familiar with the arrangements, while the hosts have been known to feature officials from their sponsoring groups on their shows, though the sources say that’s not typically part of the arrangements.

There’s no evidence these deals have caused any of the relevant talk-radio hosts to change their views — it makes sense for conservative policy outfits to seek supporters on conservative talk radio — but it could help explain why, for instance, Rush Limbaugh is far more likely to cite the Heritage Foundation’s work on health care than Cato’s (and defend the former’s prior endorsement of an individual mandate).

David Frum has more on the story here.