When I was newly minted with J.D. in hand and some conservative organization experience built-up, I called friends and asked for help finding work. One of the referrals was to a high profile lobbying/public relations firm with a high profile head. I will not name either of the above for fear of getting sued by them. I attended an interview and they explained the nature of some of the work.
One of the things it was proposed I could do was to write op-eds that would later be issued under the name of more famous persons in favor of some public policy initiative or position. At the same time, I'm sure that some of these persons would write their own op-ed, sufficiently proud of their own style and convictions not to turn the job over to the hired gun at firm X. It never occurred to me that anything in that process was wrong. The famous person would be someone who could agree with the stated position. What they would be selling would be their access to the editorial pages of the nation's newspapers and magazines. This is not bribery, but rather someone paying you to say what you would already say if the opportunity arose.
Now, I've heard the Cato Institute's Doug Bandow is basically done for, having taking significant money from Abramoff for columns he wrote. That is a shame. Doug Bandow is a strong writer and thinker.
On the surface, the problem goes like this: I like cake. I want to eat cake. I'm going to eat cake. Somebody steps up and says, "Hey, why don't you eat that cake NOW and I'll pay you for it?" And you do. Wouldn't seem to be an ethical lapse.
But it is and the real answer is revealed by imagining that everyone had full information. The newspaper or magazine wouldn't run the piece if they knew about the payment. The think tank you might work for wouldn't allow you to take the payment because their credibility is even more important than yours. And you haven't told anyone these things because deep down, you know how they would have reacted.
And that's why it's wrong. Take away the self-interest and look at the interests of others and it shines forth bright as day.
Now, I never took that job. Nobody ever slipped me a check in exchange for my promotion of a particular view at their urging. But I might have done it and could have done it without getting as far down the moral analysis as I did in this post.
In the final analysis, I'm sorry for Doug Bandow and damn glad I've had this opportunity to think it through before anyone offered me the chance to screw up.