Groups Target "Astroturf" Telecom Lobbies


Common Cause and The Center For Digital Democracy have released a report, after leaking it to the Wall Street Journal, identifying industry-backed lobbies for telecom reform.

The groups are concerned that the so-called Astroturf organizations (as in fake grassroots) are posing as consumer groups when they are instead "fronts" for big-media interests. Hence the title of the report: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Telecom Industry Front Groups and Astroturf.

They don't like the way the 1996 Telecommunications Act came out, saying citizens didn't have a seat at the table, that the result was higher prices and more concentrated media, and that they "can't afford to let that happen again."

But isn't the practice of large companies backing or even creating lobbies to push for their interests pretty much standard operating procedure in Washington?

They concede that the practice is not unique to telecommunications lobbying--pharmaceuticals comes to mind, for one--but argue that the fact that it is widespread doesn't make it right.

Jeff Chester of the Center For Digital Democracy says such undisclosed advocacy by a chain of think tanks, acadademics, and lobbying groups at the state and national level is a "stealth lobbying aparatus" that "distorts the debate."

Chellie Pingree, who heads Common Cause, said the lobby groups were spending millions on campaigns, TV ads and Astroturf lobbying purporting to represent consumer interests and "deliberately misleading lawmakers" trying to make sense of difficult telecom policy.

Chester also called on the FCC and Congress to reach out to "real" consumer groups for input instead of relying on what he called the front groups.

The report looks at nine groups active in the debate over rewriting the 1996 Telecommunications Act: Consumers for Cable Choice; FreedomWorks; Progress and Freedom Foundation; American Legislative Exchange Council; New Millennium Research Council; Frontiers of Freedom; Keep It Local NJ; Internet Innovation Alliance;