Feeds

Bloggers unite to save astroturfing for Mankind

Is this a bandwagon you really want to jump on?

High performance access to file storage

Silicon Justice Apparently, the blogosphere buys into every press release they read.

In an all-too-familiar scene, bloggers, Slashdot readers and several news outlets were taken in by the hype surrounding a provision in the Senate ethics reform bill that would have required grassroots lobbying firms to register with the US Congress.

Conservative direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie whipped the blogging community into a frenzied, and largely misdirected, opposition to the provision by trumpeting the section's supposed threat to First Amendment rights, freedom, Mom and apple pie.

Section 220 of the reform bill, the grassroots provision, was removed by an amendment prior to the bill's passage late last week, largely because of a blitzkrieg campaign in the media, the blogosphere and on Capitol Hill by Viguerie's advertising firm, American Target Advertising.

Viguerie, for those not familiar with the tarnished panoply of backroom players in American politics, pioneered the use of direct mail techniques for conservative causes, and has been called the "funding father" of the modern conservative movement. His ad agency currently handles direct mail campaigns for non-profits seeking to stimulate grassroots activity or raise funds from the general public.

Section 220 was designed to shed light on so-called "Astroturf" campaigns - seemingly grassroots campaigns that are in fact funded and guided by lobbying or PR firms, usually on behalf of large corporate clients. It would have required lobbying firms or individuals who were retained for "paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying" to register with the US Congress, similar to the registration requirement currently in place for K Street lobbyists.

Because of clumsy wording that would have included an employer in the definition of a "client," the requirement would have applied to anyone who, in the service of their employer, engaged in the stimulation of grassroots lobbying designed to influence more than 500 people, as long as the organization spent over $25,000 per quarter on the activity. Thus, anyone who was paid $25,000 per quarter to maintain a weblog with a readership of more than 500 people would have to register with Congress under section 220 if they spent all of their time encouraging the general public to contact an executive or legislative official over a matter of public policy.

While this undoubtedly represents an onerous burden for all those richly paid, grassroots-stimulating bloggers out there, the Senate could have easily fixed the problem by changing the definition of "client" as it applies to grassroots lobbying to exclude an employer. That way, an organization that wanted to start a grassroots blog campaign wouldn't have to register as a grassroots lobbying firm, since it would fall outside the definition for "paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying."

That solution wouldn't have worked for American Target Advertising, however, since it is retained by actual external clients to stimulate grassroots lobbying. Even with the fix, section 220 still would have forced the agency to register as a grassroots lobbying firm.

Thus, instead of putting pressure on the Senate to fix a well-intentioned - but poorly executed - proposal, ATA launched a scare campaign aimed at convincing the blogging community that the federal government was waiting in the wings to send its critics in the blogosphere to jail if they failed to register as grassroots lobbyists.

According to a press release entitled Congress to Send Critics to Jail issued by Mark Fitzgibbons, also of ATA, on behalf of Richard Viguerie, section 220 threatened to plunge the United States into the darkness of totalitarianism. GrassrootsFreedom.com, a website created by ATA and Fitzgibbons specifically to combat section 220, stated that section 220 "may be the biggest threat to free speech ever".

3 Big data security analytics techniques

More from The Register

next story
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Whoever you vote for, Google gets in
Report uncovers giant octopus squid of lobbying influence
Lavabit loses contempt of court appeal over protecting Snowden, customers
Judges rule complaints about government power are too little, too late
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Don't let no-hire pact suit witnesses call Steve Jobs a bullyboy, plead Apple and Google
'Irrelevant' character evidence should be excluded – lawyers
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Putin tells Snowden: Russia conducts no US-style mass surveillance
Gov't is too broke for that, Russian prez says
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.