Here is a story that reports something you sort of suspect but never expect to see spelled out so explicitly: the opinions of think tanks are for sale to the highest bidder.

There is some legislation being drawn up that will hurt FedEx, but not affect UPS, and so FedEx has launched a little campaign against this legislation. One might think that the American Conservative Union, one of the most powerful voices in the conservative movement since the group's founding in the 1960s, would be opposed to this legislation on principle, because the legislation is pro-union and might hurt the ability of a successful corporation to make a profit by any means necessary.

Well, they were opposed to it. At least, they were when they sent FedEx a letter asking for $3 million in exchange for a targeted lobbying campaign on behalf of a position they theoretically already believed in. But when FedEx declined to mail them a check, suddenly the ACU was signing off on a pro-UPS letter decrying the lies and manipulations of FedEx! Funny, right?

Here's what a $3 million donation to a conservative advocacy group gets you:

"For the activist contact portion of the plan, we will contact over 150,000 people per state multiple times at a cost of $1.39 per name or $2,147,550 to implement the entire program," the letter says. "If we incorporate the targeted, senator-personalized radio effort into the plan, you can figure an additional $125,000 on average, per state" for an estimated 10 states. The total would be $3,397,550."
Under the grass-roots program ACU proposed, "Each person will be contacted a total of seven times totaling nearly 11 million contacts total in the 10 targeted states." "Within 72 hours of an agreement on the whole plan, we can have the data sets delivered and the first round of e-mail ready for delivery," the offer states. "Within seven days, the mail can be in the USPS system and the phone call delivered."

But, you know, if you don't pay up, the ACU will lobby against you, free market capitalism be damned.

The ACU puts on the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, the most important gathering of conservative leaders of the year and a necessary stop for all would-be Republican presidential candidates. Their Directors list is a who's who of conservative thought leaders past and present. And this is all pretty embarrassing!

(And Paul Krugman notes that this sort of behavior by right-wing think tanks has been suggested before, though, as we said, it has never been revealed so explicitly.)

Update: UPS responds: "UPS has not paid or contracted with any signers of the letter, including the American Conservative Union, to obtain their support on this issue. Any suggestion that UPS has done so is false." And, you know, the ACU could've just signed on to the anti-FedEx letter out of spite, and not for cash!