Heritage Action must be working if liberal media like Politico are bashing it

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Conn Carroll,Heritage Foundation,Analysis

Politico, the ubiquitous Washington news entity, says its mission is to provide readers "a distinctive brand of journalism that drives the conversation" in Washington. Unfortunately, far too often, Politico doesn't let little things like facts get in the way of the narratives it tries to create.

Take its July 18, article titled "Jim DeMint back at war with Republicans," which attempts to cast the former South Carolina Republican's recent move from the U.S. Senate to the Heritage Foundation as a huge change in the 40-year-old think tank's mission.

"DeMint only joined the group earlier this year," Politico reports, "but already Heritage's political arm has had some early fights out of the gate that have Republican leaders both angry and frustrated, feeling like DeMint is diminishing one of the party's most powerful intellectual engines by turning it into a group taking cheap shots at Republicans."

There are two huge problems with this story: 1) The Heritage Foundation's political arm, Heritage Action, existed for three whole years before DeMint came to the think tank; and 2) DeMint has absolutely nothing to do with the day-to-day management of Heritage Action. (Note: I worked at the Heritage Foundation before joining the Washington Examiner.)

To put it another way, ThinkProgress is a media firm, while Heritage Action is a lobbying firm.

"Heritage Action has been around since 2010, well before Sen. DeMint took the reins at Heritage," Heritage Action Communications Director Dan Holler told the Examiner. "And like Dr. [Edwin] Feulner before him, Sen. DeMint does not direct the activities of Heritage Action because the two organizations are separate."

But what exactly does that mean?

The Heritage Foundation is still Washington's largest conservative think tank with over 100 researchers, who put out more than 100 policy papers every year.

This body of work is what informs Heritage Action's positions on the issues. You'll never see Heritage Action opposing something that the Heritage Foundation supports.

But, once the general policy positions have been worked out, that is where Heritage Action takes over. They decide which bills to favor, or oppose, and how actively they will oppose them.

For example, on the recent farm bill, Heritage Action strongly opposed the House Republican legislation because it lacked fundamental reform of crop subsidy payments and actually increased crop insurance subsidies.

Heritage Action pushed hard against the bill, announcing it would include be listed as a "key vote" on the group's legislative scorecard. Congressmen representing conservative districts don't want to have a low mark on Heritage Action's legislative scorecard.

By contrast, Heritage Action also opposed the recent House votes on delaying the employer and individual mandates, but chose not to include those votes on the scorecard. DeMint has nothing to with such decisions because he doesn't manage Heritage Action.

Other outlets, like the Washington Post, have also compared Heritage Action to the Center for American Progress' political arm, the Center for American Progress Action Fund. But CAPAF's most visible Washington footprint is ThinkProgress, an immensely successful social media platform.

And, while Heritage definitely looked at ThinkProgress when creating Heritage Action, they are very different organizations. ThinkProgress is a messaging machine designed to spread progressive takes on issues far beyond Washington.

Heritage Action has an almost opposite goal: to focus conservative beliefs, already held widely across America, directly on Congress. To put it another way, ThinkProgress is a media firm, while Heritage Action is a lobbying firm.

"We represent our respective states," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Politico about Heritage Action. "Not advocacy groups."

Holler actually agrees, "I think Sen. Cornyn was exactly right -- lawmakers represent their constituents. And if they're comfortable explaining their votes to their constituents, they should welcome the transparency provided by scorecards like Heritage Action's."

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