Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An Aside: NARAL

NARAL's poorly-timed endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) over Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) earlier this month is exactly the kind of dubious, self-defeating interest group action we counseled against here.

But it's the kind of move that could be repeated in Maine.

To recap: Having made the (correct) judgment months ago that Obama and Clinton were equally strong on abortion rights and related issues, NARAL had no reason to abandon its neutrality while the nomination was still up for grabs--at least no reason related to its mission.

What's more, the endorsement divided abortion rights advocates--as you would have had to expect.

So why go ahead with it at all? Why not wait for Obama to wrap up the nomination and then endorse, in a way that unites Democrats and brings pro-Clinton pro-choicers into the fold?

If you're thinking strictly about advancing the organization's mission, it's not at all clear. If anything, the endorsement looks counterproductive.

So clearly, something else factored in.

And you don't have to be a callous cynic or a political insider to realize that while the cause gains nothing from the endorsement, NARAL as an organization very well might: Increased access to the Obama campaign; perceived clout and influence with Obama's inner circle; entree with Obama donors; etc.

In short, it's not hard to see how a few folks daydreaming about jobs in an Obama administration might be looking for ways to get on the campaign's good side--and as soon as possible. And it's not hard to see how the organization's leadership might salivate at the opportunity to ingratiate themselves with the Obama camp's 1.5 million donors.

Interest group endorsements aren't supposed to work that way. They're not supposed to be about power games and parochial agendas.

Still, it's not hard to see how that kind of thinking could infect the decision-making process.

NARAL and groups like it present themselves as grassroots, mission-based organizations. But that doesn't mean they're always run that way.

And that's something worth keeping in mind when it comes to interest group endorsements and the Maine senate race.

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