Feeds

Bloggers unite to save astroturfing for Mankind

Is this a bandwagon you really want to jump on?

The Power of One Infographic

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".

The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
UK Parliament rubber-stamps EMERGENCY data grab 'n' keep bill
Just 49 MPs oppose Drip's rushed timetable
MPs wave through Blighty's 'EMERGENCY' surveillance laws
Only 49 politcos voted against DRIP bill
EU's top data cops to meet Google, Microsoft et al over 'right to be forgotten'
Plan to hammer out 'coherent' guidelines. Good luck chaps!
US judge: YES, cops or feds so can slurp an ENTIRE Gmail account
Crooks don't have folders labelled 'drug records', opines NY beak
Delaware pair nabbed for getting saucy atop Mexican eatery
Burrito meets soft taco in alleged rooftop romp outrage
LightSquared backer sues FCC over spectrum shindy
Why, we might as well have been buying AIR
'Two-speed internet' storm turns FCC.gov into zero-speed website
Deadline for comments on net neutrality shake-up extended to Friday
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Mobile application security vulnerability report
The alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, and the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.