An astroturf organization, as defined by the good people at Common Cause, is “an industry-backed campaign that gives the appearance of widespread grassroots support.”
This morning, the Town Talk featured a letter by Lizanne Sadlier of Arlington, Virginia. Ms. Sadlier works for an organization called TV4US, which, by all accounts, is a perfect example of an astroturf organization. TV4US takes money from big telecoms in order to support legislation that favors big telecoms. Imagine.
But when you look behind the smoke and mirrors, you find not citizen power, but corporate money. TV4US’s coalition consists mainly of industry powerhouses like AT&T and corporate front groups like Frontiers for Freedom.[9
The group is co-chaired by President Clinton’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Steve Ricchetti and Republican strategist Charlie Black. These two men are no strangers to the telecom Astroturf game. In 2001-02, they led the AT&T-backed Voices for Choices organization in opposition to the proposed Tauzin-Dingell telecom bill. 
Voices for Choices relied heavily on television and print advertising, and TV4US seems to be following the same model. Already this year, TV4US has spent more than $1.5 million on television advertising in favor of video franchising reform, and another $1 million on ads to oppose net neutrality. Early ads aimed to reinforce AT&T’s message of ‘competition,’ ‘lower costs,’ and ‘real choice.’ But as the debate over the telecom bill moved to the Senate, TV4US switched from feel-good messages about the benefits of national franchising, to a negative, anti-net neutrality campaign.
I’m not going to get into a point by point refutation of Ms. Sadlier’s opinion piece. Instead, I’ll punt that over to our friends at the Lafayette Pro Fiber blog, who have prior experience with the folks at TV4US. Quoting:
TV4US claims to be a “grassroots” organization but it is nowhere composed of locals. Instead it as national lobbying group specializing in pretending to be local when, in fact, it is a small national lobbying group funded by the corporate interests it serves which springs up “local” organizations wherever AT&T wants a law passed. (The phone number listed in the press release is located in lobbyist central: Washington, DC.) Hence: artificial grass: astroturf. TV4US runs large scale advertising campaigns and engages in push polling (something we here in Lafayette are familiar with). They are actually pretty sloppy about all this. In Michigan they tried to present a petition was riddled with people who objected to being so listed–including members of the legislature who actually were in opposition. The new “Lousiana” website is a great example: it is supposed to be a local website but is actually a carbon copy of Florida’s website (which in turn is clearly a simplified clone of the national one). The copying is painfully obvious. When you get to the back pages like the “independent voices” section (gag) the logo is Florida’s and the content in the “take action” section is about Florida. The contempt for Louisiana is pretty stunning. We’re so dumb that we’re going to believe this is an honest grassroots organization? A better fake would at least show some respect.