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By Katherine Kelly – July 20, 2012

This is the season that people need to be aware that astroturfing is a prominent fixture in our political landscape.  For those who don’t know, the definition of astroturfing is defined  as a “form of advocacy in support of a political, organizational or corporate agenda, designed to give the appearance of a “grassroots” movement.  The goal of such campaigns is to disguise the efforts of a political or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to another political entity – a politician, political group, product, service or event”.

Two years ago, when I put an anti-fluoride initiative on the ballot, an astroturf group came to town. The California Dental Association swooped into town when they caught wind of my initiative. They poured thousands and thousands of dollars into the coffers of the opposition who were then able to buy 1/4 page newspapers ads claiming that outsiders were trying to interfere with our way of life.  (Link here to see FORM 700) That ‘s how they operate. They tell lies and try and convince people that they are being attacked by evil outsiders, when in fact, they are the outsiders. The real grassroots group, me and my volunteers, were all local residents.

I’ve read the articles and letters to the editor in the local newspaper about how great and wonderful fluoride is for everybody without an ounce of concern for the dose from babies to seniors. Especially when they talk and write about how safe and effective this stuff is.  When I first moved here I didn’t know they put fluoride Crescent City water. I had never lived in a fluoridated community and I didn’t know about fluoride.  Nor did I know they used HFSA (hydrofluosilicic acid) a toxic industrial waste as the product.  I’d rather spend my time on other things, but my health was at risk.  I have a thyroid disease and I couldn’t understand why I felt so bad and my medication always needed to be adjusted.

Astroturfers: They manipulate public opinion by both overt (outreach awareness) and covert (information) means. Astroturfing may be undertaken by organized professional groups for pay; like the California Dental Association paying Bob Berkowitz’s group Lifestyles during the 2010 ballot Measure A.

One of the most famous causes involving astroturfing was in the tobacco industry. The National Smokers Alliance, an early astroturf group created by Burson-Marsteller on behalf of tobacco giant Philip Morris, worked to influence Federal legislation in 1995 by organizing mailings and running a phone-bank urging people to call or write to politicians expressing their opposition to laws aimed at discouraging teens from starting to smoke.  

Astroturfing is a form of propaganda whose techniques usually consist of a few people attempting to give the impression that mass numbers of enthusiasts advocate some specific cause.   When these astroturfing organizations organize as a front or middle man.  That’s what bothers me.  Here’s what I mean. The National Smokers Alliance was an astroturfing group funded by the tobacco industry with the express purpose to oppose tobacco product regulations.  Groups like the American Cancer Society or American Heart Association cannot lobby for federal funding without violating tax laws, but can lobby state governments.

In the early 1990s, the federal American Stop Smoking Intervention Study (ASSIST) program used federal funding to create the appearance of concerned citizens groups lobbying for the levy and allocation of state tobacco taxes. The beneficiaries of this program were tax-exempt voluntary health associations (VHAs) such as the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association.

The federal program, administered through the National Cancer Institute, including hiring the Advocacy Institute to teach the ASSIST and VHA staff to set up interlocking front organizations. These front organizations presented themselves as a groundswell of concerned citizens’ groups, but were wholly staffed by employees of the federal offices and beneficiary VHAs.

That what I call deceptive practices.  I read where one legitimate citizen group got the IRS involved. Maybe that’s what we have to do here.  Because the cashroots organizations like the California Dental Association operating outside our city and throwing $20,000 and $30,000 trying to keep the fluoride in our water is just more deception. I’m looking at their ads from 2010 printed in our local newspaper.   This group takes the cake as one of the biggest bunch of liars money can buy.  They’re the outsiders making it seem like they’re locals.   Just more twisting of the truth through astroturfing.

That’s the difference between cashroots and grassroots.




One thought on “What is Astroturfing?”
  1. Donna Thanks for the information! ….. I never really understood what Astroturfing was until you explained today how they Manipulate people’s ideas and thoughts!

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