Let’s start with some definitions again. Astroturf means more than the artificial grass created for indoor sports venues and fake lawns. The verb, astroturfing means, “organized activity that is intended to create a false impression of a widespread, spontaneously arising, grassroots movement in support of or in opposition to something (such as a political policy) but that is in reality initiated and controlled by a concealed group or organization (such as a corporation).” Grassroots, short for grassroots level, means, “the common or ordinary people, especially as contrasted with the leadership or elite of a political party, social organization, etc.; the rank and file.“
We have seen some purported grassroots movements in the not to distant past. The most noticeable—read that as noisy—was the Tea Party Movement. It billed itself as grassroots but in reality was fully astroturfed. The Tea Party, while it claimed to be spontaneous and unfunded, was backed by Americans for Prosperity, a political front group funded by the Koch brothers and their affiliate organization, Donors Trust.
Almost the entire underlying message to the Tea Party was “get the government off our backs.” This meant regulation. The idea was that government regulation of the business environment was somehow hurting society. The opposite was true in the sense that the regulations that were “causing all the trouble” somehow seemed to be those that involved clean water, restriction of where one could drill for oil or natural gas, and edicts against polluting the environment. Get the picture? These are the regulations that got in the way of Koch interests—the largest privately held energy companies in the US—and their profits.
One of the other spawns of the Koch efforts to disable government in all its forms is ALEC. ALEC stands for American Legislative Exchange Council. For a great laugh, and an education in environmental gaslighting, visit their site and read their page on “Environmental Stewardship.”
The actual work product of ALEC is cookie-cutter bills ready to hand to a state, local or even national legislator for sponsorship. These bills are literally ready to go, fill-in-the-blanks, forms that just need dates and a signature before submitting for consideration.
The ALEC model is now being used on an even wider—and far more sinister—sphere. Another Koch-oriented, dark money “think tank,” Heritage Action for America, is focused on writing voter suppression laws in states that have Republican dominated legislators. An explosive exposé on this has been published in Mother Jones.
Jessica Anderson, the Executive Director of Heritage Action for America was caught on video detailing their activities as part of a pitch to donors.
“We’re working with these state legislators to make sure they have all of the information they need to draft the bills,” Anderson told the Heritage Foundation donors. In addition to drafting the bills in some cases, “we’ve also hired state lobbyists to make sure that in these targeted states we’re meeting with the right people.”
“In some cases, we actually draft [the bills] for them, or we have a sentinel on our behalf give them the model legislation so it has that grassroots, from-the-bottom-up type of vibe.”
To “create this echo chamber,” as Anderson put it, Heritage is spending $24 million over two years in eight battleground states—Arizona, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Nevada, Texas, and Wisconsin—to pass and defend restrictive voting legislation. Every Tuesday, the group leads a call with right-wing advocacy groups like the Susan B. Anthony List, Tea Party Patriots, and FreedomWorks to coordinate these efforts at the highest levels of the conservative movement. “We literally give marching orders for the week ahead,” Anderson said. “All so we’re singing from the same song sheet of the goals for that week and where the state bills are across the country.”
These admissions are nothing short of chilling. One wonders how this could possibly be legal. But another Koch-oriented operation saw to that when they managed to get the Citizens United v. FEC decision to approve the concept that money is a form of speech.
What we see in this astroturfing operation is nothing less than a big-money effort to undo Democracy entirely and to do it through the perversion of Democracy’s own mechanisms. The fact that the name Koch is connected to all of these efforts is instructive.
Aside from targeting the right to vote of people who would be opposed to these actions, the other target is preventing passage of H.R.1. This critical piece of legislation, also known as the For the People Act, is anathema to all the work ALEC and Heritage Action is doing. So getting this through the Senate is key. And that means somehow overcoming the road blocks that appear to be Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Simena. But that’s another article.
The basic thing to remember about astroturfing is that it is a lie. Like the image above shows, it looks like grass, but there are no roots at all. The roots of our democracy is still people not money.
Remember also that we vote with our wallets and not just our ballots. It might be handy to see what companies are owned by Charles Koch and avoid those brands. The reason he wants to control your ballot is because your wallet is the real energy pipeline he wants to keep flowing.