“Astroturfing” is the use of various means to create the appearance of grassroots support for an organization or idea when no actual grassroots support exists. Astroturfing takes money, typically making it a tool of some elite group. Sometimes the goal is to get conformist everyday citizens to jump on a fake bandwagon for an unpopular idea, thereby creating an actual bandwagon. At other times, the goal is to erect fake “Potemkin village” evidence of a grassroots movement that doesn’t exist. That fake evidence is shown to fellow members of the political elite in order to hoodwink them into thinking that there’s popular support for an unpopular idea.
In each of five previous rounds of generating fake letters to the editor (1|2|3|4|5), the No Labels corporation wrote canned text in its Washington DC office, convinced followers to sign their names to the text and insert them as “locally-written” letters to the Editor, and then sent out messages trumpeting its grassroots support. A typical promotional offering was written by No Labels staffer Jack McCullough on December 12, 2012:
"LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Citizens continue to spread the word about No Labels in their local papers. 'No Labels is calling for a new understanding of leadership,' writes Joseph Candela II in the Orange County Post Sentinel. 'To solve problems, No Labels wants President Barack Obama and congressional leaders to stop the rhetoric and agree on the same set of facts, govern for the future, not the next election, put country before party and live up to the obligations of leadership and work together to solve problems,' Arnold Sherman writes in The Baltimore Sun."
Joseph Candela and Arnold Sherman didn’t write those words. A No Labels political staffer did.
This practice (repeated often over the years) suggests that No Labels’ goal is not to kick-start any actual grassroots movement, but rather to convince fellow DC Beltway insiders that a grassroots movement exists when it doesn’t.
The No Labels Astroturf machinery is being geared up yet again. In an e-mail blast sent out on February 2, 2012, No Labels co-founder Lisa Borders asks volunteers to visit a web page on which they may sign their name as “authors” of staffer-written text, then submit the text as if it were original to local newspapers. Look for the following text to appear in newspapers near you, and then look for No Labels to refer to those newspaper appearances as evidence of grassroots support:
"If your Congressman/Senator voted for No Budget, No Pay, thank them for doing so. Elected officials are often criticized for their vote -- a simple thank you goes a long way! Over the course of the last 60 years, Congress has only passed a budget resolution and the requisite appropriations bills on time for a total of four years. No Budget, No Pay is a historic and unprecedented piece of legislation -- Congress has often voted to increase their salaries but never have they acted to have their pay suspended should they fail to do their job. The No Budget, No Pay provision is only the first step -- encourage your Congressman/Senator to support more comprehensive legislation introduced in the House and the Senate a few weeks ago (H.R. 310 and S. 124). Encourage your peers to join the movement at www.NoLabels.org."
I’m writing this article for three reasons. The first reason is to document the existence of the canned text before it is published in the form of a fake grassroots “letter.” The second reason is to warn journalists at newspapers to beware of this text and think twice before letting the No Labels corporation take over the Letters to the Editor page. The third reason is to ask you to help me spread the word; the best way to stop such unethical, anti-civic behavior is to make its cost greater than its benefit.