When former FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey complained to Media Matters last week that the Tea Party group had wasted money when it paid Glenn Beck and Rush to say "nice things" about the organization on the air, Armey sounded a lot like a record label executive bemoaning the high cost of radio promotion.
Armey protested that in making the payments to the high-profile talkers, FreedomWorks was "spending too damn much" and "getting too little value out of it." The former House majority leader didn't know the details of Limbaugh's contract, but said Beck had been paid at least $1 million last year to help the organization fundraise, an effort internal FreedomWorks documents reveal garnered the organization roughly $850,000 (not including some third party event ticket sales).
He wouldn't be the first chairman to second-guess dubious marketing or branding efforts. But in singling out the amorphous payments made to the radio shows, Armey raised questions about what the conservative group was doing showering the two programs with so much money in exchange for on-air flattery and on-air promotion.
That sounds an awful lot like payola.
It's true payola is most often associated with hit radio stations and the long-standing tradition of music industry middlemen known as indies funneling record company money to radio stations in exchange for on-air spins for new singles. But the fact is, the payola statute in America makes it a crime for radio stations to receive anything of value, like record company promotional payments, if they fail to disclose that relationship with listeners.