Astroturfing…that fake grass stuff right?

You are probably thinking, “What does astroturf have to do with ethics?” Well we’re talking about a different kind. This type of astroturfing according to PR Week is about lobbying or campaigning that appears to be authentic, but was really paid for by an organization. That is actually how it got its name because astroturf is that fake, plastic material made to look like grass. You can see this happen in many areas today, but especially politics. However, the industry we are going to follow is the oil industry.

In this case, the Waxman-Markey bill is the subject of debate. The plan of the bill was to aim at cutting greenhouse gas emissions exponentially by the year 2050. There was also a huge possibility that many employees of large oil companies would lose their jobs due to this piece of legislation. Before the House of Representatives was going to vote on the bill, a man by the name of Drayton McLane was hosting a rally to attack President Obama’s agenda on clean energy.

The rally was hosted by Energy Citizens. They are a lobbyist group who are made up of employees of major oil companies to fight this bill. Due to their lobbying against the legislation and many others that have to do with taxes on energy and jobs in the oil industry, the Waxman-Markey bill has still yet to pass.

On their website, which you can click on above, they state their issues, talk about the latest news on energy, and even blog about topics in the industry. From an outside perspective, it looks like site this was made by people who genuinely care about the issues they state. You would never know that most of the people who make up Energy Citizens are actually employees of some of the major oil companies.

The fact of the matter is that there is no one saying that you can’t astroturf and it is a perfectly legal thing to do. The issue in itself is the fact that the people who are apart or create these groups have to live with themselves. They have to come with terms that they tricked people into believing something that is false and there lies the ethical problem. In this case it was either lose your job over a piece of legislation or save it and make someone else pay. What would you do in this situation?

The video below is an illustration of what astroturfing can affect. In the video you will see Rachel Maddow, host of her self-titled MSNBC talk show, uncovering the truth about a “grass-roots” organization named American’s For Prosperity. In this particular case, the organization was lobbying against the Olympics being in Chicago. The reason behind this would be the sole fact that it would both raise taxes and would hurt big businesses.

Take a look for yourself.

  1. #1 by Kimberly Lofgren on October 7, 2010 - 1:30 AM

    You did a great job of explaining astroturfing. When I read the first paragraph I immediately thought of the blog put on by Walmart, “Wal-marting Across America”. Although it was started by real people, Walmart paid them to say good things about the company. This information was not released and lead readers to believe these people were giving truthful, unbiased opinions. Also that the blog was started spontaneously, but really wasn’t. Maybe in another post you could explore this situation and see what Walmart had to say about. here’s an article from business week:

    • #2 by Shane Garvin on October 7, 2010 - 5:06 AM

      Wow. I didn’t even think of looking in the retail sector. This just proves that astroturfing can take place anywhere and in any industry. Also, companies don’t really understand the backlash that can result of consumers finding out that they were the ones to actually pay for the good publicity. Maybe I can write a post to see how some companies dealt with the negative feedback after getting caught astroturfing.

      Thank you for the feedback. Keep commenting.

  2. #3 by Julia Rubel on October 10, 2010 - 2:07 AM

    I don’t think Senate would be so hesitant to consider the bill if they knew the people rallying were members of the oil community. They would recognize that they have underlying priorities (money). If I were a member of the community, I think I would rally for the bill even though it might go against the goals of my company. I believe the environment is more important. I think it is deceiving that these companies are trying to get away with astroturfing and doesn’t display good ethical standards. As for Americans for Prosperity, I am not sure. I think it is strange that they are not supportive of the United States and Chicago hosting the Olympics. I don’t know if that is because they are against the president and that is his town.

    • #4 by Shane Garvin on October 10, 2010 - 1:59 PM

      I completely agree with you Julia and I believe I would do the same if I thought my job was on the line. Especially the way the economy and job market is today, I would probably try and persuade skeptical workers to do the same. As for the Americans for Prosperity, I believe they were saying, and I could be wrong, was if the Olympics were to be in Chicago then somehow taxes would go up for the rich. I think Americans for Prosperity is just an organization of wealthy people who want to stay wealthy.

      Thank you Julia for your feedback and honesty. Keep commenting.

  3. #5 by Lauren Pezze on October 10, 2010 - 5:10 PM

    I like the explanation of astroturfing. I find it very useful when things have the same name to explain similar ideas like the one stated in your article.
    I believe the senate would be in the same position they are now no matter if they knew exactly who was rallying. Clearly people who work in the Oil Industry would be against the bill and the senate would know that with or without the rally.
    To answer your second question. If it is something I am passionate about and believe that there can be a safe or environmental friendly way then maybe, maybe not. These are serious issues that will effect many people for years to come. The decisions are important and if I truly believed that it was worth it to rally, I would!

  4. #6 by Phillip George Mike on October 10, 2010 - 9:59 PM

    This is definitely a practice that should be looked at more closely. In some ways, it is a shrewd way of getting what a company wants. The people they bring out there may actually enjoy the rallies or whatever needs to be done at the time, but it certainly doesn’t feel right.

    For the Senate, I don’t think they need to consider the authenticity of the rallies as much as some would think. The groups may actually have some points, and policy makers should make decisions based on what’s best or the country, not what lobbyists and ralliers think.

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