Too Good to Check: Ben & Jerry’s Ben Cohen Now Buying Issue Support with Free Ice Cream

Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen is waging a new campaign to reform the campaign finance system, and to “get money out of politics.” But Cohen is no stranger to injecting a lot of his own money into politics, and his latest gambit makes him a hypocrite of the highest degree, as the Ben & Jerry’s company and its parent company Unilever bear the financial costs of his advocacy.

Ben & Jerry's truck

You might say Cohen is delivering the bullshit by the truckload these days. Politico Influence reports:

BEN & JERRY’S DEFENDS FREE ICE CREAM TO FIGHT CORPORATE INFLUENCE: Last week, POLITICO reported that Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen is fighting the Citizens United decision by stamping dollar bills with anti-money-in-politics messages. Anyone who presents a stamped dollar bill gets a free ice cream. PI asked Ben & Jerry’s ‘Grand Poobah’ of communications Sean Greenwood who was paying for the effort - noting that it would be a bit ironic for a for-profit corporation to fight influence-peddling by giving away free ice cream.

Greenwood said that Cohen, who is no longer actively involved in the company, is running the initiative himself. But he’s a member of the ‘Free Ice Cream for Life Club’ and is entitled to give it away. ‘Ben & Jerry’s as a company has been very active and supportive in a number of campaigns to highlight business and money in politics. While some may judge a business - reaching out to highlight businesses’ unfair influence as not in our best interests - we feel that sticking up for what is consistent with our company values is always in our best interests,’ Greenwood said. Read his full statement to PI here:

The irony today is no less palpable or flabbergasting than it was last fall when I profiled Cohen’s political expenditures in an editorial for The Daily Caller:

Ben Cohen has spent $66,874 of his own money on politics since 2007. By comparison, the median income in the U.S. in 2008 was just over $52,000, a figure that has since declined. So while progressives decry the drowning-out effect of “money in politics,” Cohen personally spent more in a single election cycle than the average American earns in a year. Cohen also founded True Majority to broaden his reach into politics. True Majority is now part of US Action, a national progressive group that boasts three Big Labor affiliates: the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Communications Workers of America (CWA), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). But Wall Street Journal reports in 2010 and 2012 pegged Big Labor as the most dominant political spending group in recent cycles. Shouldn’t Cohen stop spending so much on elections and renounce his affiliation with these groups?

Cohen’s hypocrisy doesn’t stop there. In April 2000, Cohen and Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield sold their popular ice creamery to multinational food and consumer good giant Unilever, which also owns brands like Dove, Lipton, and TRESemmé. Cohen is still a Unilever employee and an ongoing spokesman for both the Ben & Jerry’s brand and progressive advocacy. According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Unilever has spent close to $1 million lobbying the United States government on “[Miscellaneous] Manufacturing & Distributing” issues. The Sunlight Foundation’s Influence Explorer clocks Unilever’s recent lobbying expenditures at above $1.6 million. Neither expenditure estimate is a lot of money for a company of Unilever’s size to spend on lobbying, but it’s far more than a median income earner could ever afford to influence public policy.

In fairness, most of the recent “money in politics” hysteria has focused on corporate contributions to super PACs, more so than on lobbying. But here again, the data don’t bear out the narrative.

Ben Cohen’s deceptive “money in politics” gambit is a front in the high-stakes competition for voters’ attention. While Cohen may be wrong on the merits, we should take his claims seriously. After all, they’re popular views, and President Obama recently expressed support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the functional equivalent of repealing the First Amendment. People like Cohen don’t want money out of politics; they just want their opponents’ money out of politics.

That a British-Dutch multi-national corporation, Unilver, owns Ben & Jerry’s, who is subsidizing Ben Cohen’s latest political advocacy at shareholders’ expense, brings the delicious, hypocrisy-dipped waffle cone of progressive nuttery full-circle: progressives spill tankers of ink decrying the influence of foreign money in American politics, and yet here, one of their champion’s advocacy plays is being subsidized by a foreign corporation! You can’t make this stuff up.

These people, who also exist on the Republican side, are the enemies of freedom. Call them out wherever and whenever you see them.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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