Aligning with a political committee: most news reporters consider it a cardinal sin.
But dogma isn’t dogging Michael J. Hollis, a freelance writer and adjunct journalism professor from Texas who on Wednesday registered a federal super PAC aimed at representing the interests of work-a-day scribes, particularly contract writers.
Struggling journalists, he said, shouldn’t fear prodding politicians to heed their economic concerns.
“If we allow real journalism to get devalued though and allow journalists to simply become ‘content providers,’ we are participating in the death of our own industry,” said Hollis, who most recently taught courses at Park University and Concordia University Texas. “There are quite a few changes going on in the industry that are concerning to me but I think we can overcome them so long as we don’t ignore them.”
Simply forming a super PAC, which by definition may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against politicians, guarantees nothing.
Most of the nearly 1,000 federally registered super PACs in existence have raised little or no cash, according to Federal Election Commission records. Multimillion-dollar operations such as conservative American Crossroads or liberal Senate Majority PAC are rare.
Hollis said he wants to use the super PAC to advocate for issues and also plans to try to attract small-time entrepreneurs and non-journalist freelancers to his causes.
He will assuredly face fiscal challenges. Few working journalists ever contribute to political campaigns and committees — although there are exceptions. And freelancers, his target demographic, aren’t typically flush with surplus cash.
Hollis says he’s lined up some “small donations coming in next week” and will soon solicit businesses and labor unions that share the super PAC’s philosophy. But he doesn’t expect an influx of contributions, at least not immediately.
So should Hollis even attempt operating a journalist super PAC?
“Absolutely. Why not?” said Dave Mason, a former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission and campaign deregulation advocate.
But Mason quickly noted that many journalists would likely balk on ethical grounds at supporting — financially or otherwise — this or any political committee.
Skepticism among news professionals will certainly be a problem for the super PAC, which Hollis has named Freelancers and Micro-Entrepreneurs PAC, or FAME PAC.
The Society of Professional Journalists, for example, urges journalists to “avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.”
The Associated Press requires its employees to “avoid behavior or activities — political, social or financial” that create conflict of interest or compromise our ability to report the news fairly and accurately, uninfluenced by any person or action.”
And the New York Times‘ ethics guidelines are even more overt: “Staff members may not themselves give money to, or raise money for, any political candidate or election cause. Given the ease of Internet access to public records of campaign contributors, any political giving by a Times staff member would carry a great risk of feeding a false impression that the paper is taking sides.”
Points taken, Hollis said.
“I anticipate a fair amount of resistance … but we need to at least try,” Hollis explained, noting that the people his super PAC seeks to represent are often ignored by Congress and have little voice in political debates.
He added: “I have campaigned against super PACs in the past, but I’m interested now in seeing whether or not they can be put to good use.”
One ancillary benefit Hollis says comes with forming a super PAC?
The experience could help his own journalistic endeavors.
“Hopefully, what I learn from being on the inside of a PAC will guide my own future reporting on the subject,” he said. “With all of the other investigative work I have done, being on the inside is by far the best way to truly understand a subject.”
Help support this work
Public Integrity doesn’t have paywalls and doesn’t accept advertising so that our investigative reporting can have the widest possible impact on addressing inequality in the U.S. Our work is possible thanks to support from people like you.