the astroturfing industry 

From Edward Walker’s Grassroots For Hire pg 6-7:

Today, more and more advocacy is being driven not by the local organizing of autonomous citizens, but by the efforts of paid consultants that organizations like these for- profit colleges hire to help them activate receptive members of the public on their behalf. Grassroots for Hire reveals an industry of consultants who work on behalf of companies, powerful interest groups, labor unions, and other organizations to shift public policies in their clients’ favor by mobilizing mass participation. Their clients include many of the most powerful multinationals: 40 percent of Fortune 500 firms appear as their clients. The reach is vast: the leading campaign by an average consulting firm targets over 750,000 Americans for participation. 16 Their work is lucrative: consultants command hourly rates at (or at times well beyond) $400 per hour. Their campaigns are consequential: they go beyond the work of traditional lobbyists by showing to legislators and regulators that a client’s concerns have motivated and organized constituencies mobilized to support them.

And from page 8:

Public affairs consultants, sometimes known as “grassroots lobbyists,” 20 incentivize citizen participation through a variety of means, often using new information and communications technologies to facilitate the process. Their work goes beyond simple public relations strategies that focus on messaging without encouraging citizen action. Their campaigns may not be entirely replacing traditional forms of grassroots organizing, but they are undoubtedly helping to commercialize citizen advocacy, offering the repertoire of participation originally developed by advocacy organizations and social movements as a professional service in the political marketplace. To the extent that only select citizens are targeted for participation, this form of commercialized advocacy exacerbates participatory inequalities among the citizenry, and may be further decoupling citizen participation from the democratic norms, social networks, and feelings of institutional trust that undergird our civic life. In addition, although many consultants avoid such strategies, some engage in “astroturf” (i.e., fake grassroots) strategies on behalf of their clients through the use of heavy incentives, fraud, or misleading claims about their sponsorship. Their doing so may reduce citizens’ trust not only in the political process but also in advocacy groups more broadly.

About Mark