"Senator, I knew sock puppets. Sock puppets were friends of mine. Senator, you are no sock puppet": I had no idea that the late Lloyd Bentsen, a great politician, coined the phrase astroturf, but I commend him for having done so. Common Cause, a John Gardner founded consumer advocacy group, released a brief report called Wolves in Sheep's Clothing: Telecom Industry Front Groups and Astroturf today. The report covers nine organizations that purport to be thinktanks or grassroots efforts, but are funded directly or indirectly by incumbent telecommunications interests. (Common Cause shouldn't be confused with Public Citizen, which I did in the original version of this post.)
I have written extensively about the New Millennium Research Council, a project of Issue Dynamics, which inserted itself into the municipal broadband debate by co-releasing a report with The Heartland Institute a year ago that explained why municipal broadband was a bad approach to increasing Internet access in cities and towns. Interestingly, the report may have had its desired effect. Before the report and surrounding furor, early city plans involved using city dollars. Now, virtually all plans offset capital investment, risk, and ownership to private firms, a move that has been met with by approval from some originally involved in writing this report.
I've notified Common Cause that they are slightly unfair to NMRC, even though I used that group as a punching bag myself. NMRC discloses its relationship to Issue Dynamics, a public relations firm that has telecom and cable clients, on its About page. NMRC has also removed at least one "scholar and expert" noted on their site who complained about being included in that list a year ago.
The Progress and Freedom Foundation is included in this list, and Common Cause acknowledges that the group is almost unique in providing a list of its donors. I have less of a problem with PFF because they seem to have a broader range of positions than similar organizations. I disagreed with their Adam Thierer-authored anti-muni report, but I didn't think his sources or motivations were hidden, nor PFF's. Further, PFF was perfectly happy to engage in open dialog. Common Cause does note something I found strange: PFF papers state that they are the opinion of the author, not the organization. [link via Muniwireless.com]