By Lee Fang
When Big Industry doesn’t have public support for its lobbying priorities, more often than not, they’ll invent it through slick front groups, a practice known in the influence industry as “astroturfing.” The oil and tobacco industries, for instance, are famous for creating groups like Smokers’ Rights associations to show a veil of popular support for their dangerous interests.
The copyright industry forces promoting the vast Internet censorship bills making their way through Congress — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA) — have manufactured their own set of regular Americans.
A website, called Creative America, claims to represent a coalition of “actors, directors, craft professionals, editors, cinematographers,” and other regular folks in the entertainment industry who support the pair of Internet censorship bills promoted by lobbyists. But a closer look at who’s involved in the effort tells a different story.
Take Mike Nugent, a spokesman for Creative America and the Executive Director. According to his LinkedIn profile, Nugent came into his “grassroots” role from a career as the “Senior Vice President, Anti-Piracy” for the Walt Disney Company and before that, as a CitiGroup attorney working in the mortgage industry.
Craig Hoffman, the communications person for the Creative Coalition (America?), is no regular blue-collar entertainment worker, either. His profile says he was recently a consultant with the Motion Picture Association of America, the lobbying goliath behind the SOPA/PROTECT-IP bills:
Creative America has launched ads, social media campaigns, and other efforts to convince the American public that regular every day entertainment industry workers demand a draconian law that has been compared to China’s Great Internet Firewall. But in reality, it’s a slick astroturf effort directed by industry executives, many of whom have experience on Wall Street and K Street, not sweeping up the floors of studios as Creative America’s website would suggest.
As Mike Masnick reported over at TechDirt, Creative America hasn’t only played fast and loose with who is behind the group, but also with who embraces the message. In October, Creative America claimed that they had “sent 100,000 letters to Congress.” As Masnick noted, their own website revealed that they had sent 4,191, and then about 33,000 people had “signed a petition” that the group had set up.
Setting up fake grassroots groups to advance self-interested corporate policies is a largely unregulated form of lobbying. But it’s yet another way our democracy is manipulated by big special interests.