Astroturf: "The technique of using boiler plate text to advance a political agenda. "Astroturfing" is typically done by sending the same letter to every newspaper one can find. A certain number of newspapers will be duped into thinking that the letter is original and heartfelt when it is neither." (Source: Urban Dictionary)
Plagiarize: "to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own : use (another’s production) without crediting the source; to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source." (Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
It’s manipulative. It’s a form of lying. It’s unethical. And in its push for cuts to social security, cuts to medicare, and cuts to corporate taxes, the DC political corporation No Labels has fostered astroturf plagiarism over and over again.
In April 2011, again in January 2012, again in August 2012 and yet again in December 2012, the 501c4 corporation No Labels called on its followers to copy text written by a Washington DC staffer, sign their own name at the bottom as false authors, send the fake letters to newspapers around the country. No Labels warned followers that they might be called by newspapers checking up on their authorship, and reiterated that followers should “be sure to include your name.”
With the new year, No Labels at it again. In an e-mail blast sent out on the night of January 5 2013, No Labels asked its supposed “hundreds of thousands of supporters” to send out another wave of identical, canned letters to the editor. This time, the corporate-written text reads as follows:
The fight over the fiscal cliff, and the resulting "solution," is a glaring example of Washington's inability to get anything done. Instead of solving the problem, they merely dealt with part of it -- and kicked the rest down the road. We can't let this happen again -- No Labels is calling for Washington to stop fighting and start fixing at the Meeting to Make America Work! on January 14 in New York City. Learn more at www.NoLabels.org.
It appears that either No Labels does not actually have “hundreds of thousands of supporters,” or that those supporters are getting tired of being asked to lie on No Labels’ behalf. Only two supporters actually sent in No Labels’ text, signed their own names to it, and got it published in their local paper (see the Ocala Star Banner and the Harrison Daily Times).
Even though No Labels’ astroturf campaigns appear to be increasingly unpopular and desperate, I encourage you to keep your eyes peeled for these words in your local newspaper and to write a response exposing the scam if you see it. If you’re on the staff of a local newspaper, be on the lookout for this and other letters purporting to be written by locals supporting “No Labels.” In the meantime, please spread the word about No Labels’ unethical behavior. No Labels clearly does not have an ethical compass in this regard; the only way to stop No Labels from polluting our newspapers with its spam is to make the cost of its unethical behavior greater than the benefit it reaps from those plastic letters.