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“Astroturf” – otherwise known as fake grassroots – has become a big part of American political life. One is left to wonder when our traditional media will finally figure it out.

Campaigns & Elections magazine defines astroturf as a “grassroots program that involves the instant manufacturing of public support for a point of view in which either uninformed activists are recruited or means of deception are used to recruit them.” Journalist William Greider has coined his own term to describe corporate grassroots organizing. He calls it “democracy for hire.”

August 22, 2007 press release:

…a new organization named Freedom’s Watch announced it is launching a nationwide grassroots campaign aimed at ensuring Congress continues to fully fund the troops with the ultimate goal of victory in the War on Terror. Freedom’s Watch is spending approximately $15 million on radio and television ads as well as grassroots activities from now thru mid-September and has partnered with a host of veterans organizations in an effort to ensure terrorism is confronted all over the world….

Does anyone remember Richard Nixon’s almost messianic belief in the silent majority?

The same press release continued:

…Supporters of Freedom’s Watch include Former U.S. Ambassador Anthony Gioia, Former U.S. Ambassador Kevin Moley, Former U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler and Former U.S. Ambassador Howard Leach; Dr. John Templeton, Edward Snider, Sheldon Adelson, Richard Fox, Ari Fleischer, Gary Erlbaum, and Matt Brooks….

Ah, a republican insider “billionaire boys” club.

The Center for Responsive Politics:

Friendship and fund-raising are likely what got Anthony Gioia the nomination as ambassador to Malta, a three-island nation off the tip of Sicily.

Gioia contributed $25,850 to Republican candidates and party committees during the 1999-2000 election cycle, including $3,000 to the Bush campaign. He also made a $5,000 contribution to the Bush-Cheney recount fund. His lone contribution to the Democrats was $1,000 to incumbent Rep. John J. LaFalce of New York. Gioia’s wife, Donna, contributed a total of $6,561 in 1999-2000, all to Republicans.

Gioia is reported to be a prominent GOP fund-raiser who hosted a reception for former President George Bush at his Buffalo home. The event raised $500,000 for George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, reports The Buffalo News. During the presidential campaign, Gioia was a member of Bush’s national finance committee.

He is the head of Gioia Management, whose employees (including Gioia) and their families contributed a total of $33,411 to candidates and party committees in ’99-’00, all but $1,000 of which went to the GOP.

Ambassador Kevin Edward Moley

Ambassador Moley was nominated by President Bush to serve as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva on September 14, 2001 and was confirmed for this position by the United States Senate on September 26, 2001.

Beginning in 1998, Ambassador Moley was a private investor and served on the Board of Directors of five publicly held companies and three privately held companies. He previously served as a consultant to Kinetra LLC, the successor company to Integrated Medical Systems Inc., which Ambassador Moley served as President and CEO. Ambassador Moley was also Senior Vice President of PCS Health Systems, Inc….

….Ambassador Moley was the Senior Advisor to Secretary Dick Cheney for the Bush-Cheney 2000 Presidential Campaign….

Mel Sembler, Chairman of the Board of The Sembler Company, served as United States Ambassador to Italy from 2001 to 2005 and as U.S. Ambassador to Australia and Nauru from 1989 to 1993.

The Center for Responsive Politics:

President Bush stuck with tradition in his nomination for ambassador to France, naming a very wealthy — and extremely generous — contributor to serve in Paris, considered one of the most prestigious foreign posts.

Howard Leach, a successful investor involved in numerous business interests, has a net worth reported to be in the billions. He is the CEO of Leach Capital Corp. and president of Foley Timber and Land Co., which is based in Florida.

He is also a big-time Republican donor. Leach contributed $225,559 to GOP candidates and party committees in the 1999-2000 election cycle, including $190,300 in soft money. His wife, Gretchen, gave $63,800 to Republican candidates and party committees — $32,800 of which in soft money.

Leach was one of the Bush campaign’s “Pioneers,” who raised at least $100,000 for the campaign. He contributed $100,000 to the Bush-Cheney Inaugural Committee and $5,000 to the Bush-Cheney recount fund, a contribution matched by his wife.

All told, Howard and Gretchen Leach gave $289,359 to GOP candidates and party committees in 1999-2000, $10,000 to the Bush-Cheney recount fund, and $100,000 to the Bush-Cheney inaugural committee.

*Figures represent contributions from the individual and his/her immediate family in 1999-2000. Total includes donations made to Republican candidates and party committees, as well as the Bush-Cheney recount fund, transition foundation, and inauguration committee.

From Mother Jones:

Dr. John M. Templeton Jr.

Son of famed financial whiz Sir John Templeton, the younger John chose to pursue medicine instead of a full-time career in finance. After receiving his degree from Harvard Medical School, he spent two years in the U.S. Navy. Templeton went on to work at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 1977 as a pediatric surgeon and trauma program director….

….In 1995, Templeton retired from his medical practice to serve as full-time president of the John Templeton Foundation. The foundation, established by his father in 1987, seeks to explore the relationship between scientific and religious knowledge, typically through academic grants and awards. It sponsors the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, an award given to a “living individual for outstanding originality for advancing the world’s understanding of God and spirituality.”

There’s a few more. What do you bet they ain’t writing ten dollar checks?

The New York Times, September 30, 2007:

…Next month, Freedom’s Watch will sponsor a private forum of 20 experts on radical Islam that is expected to make the case that Iran poses a direct threat to the security of the United States, according to several benefactors of the group…

….One benefactor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the group was hoping to raise as much as $200 million by November 2008. Raising big money “will be easy,” the benefactor said, adding that several of the founders each wrote a check for $1 million. Mr. Blakeman would not confirm or deny whether any donor gave $1 million, or more, to the organization….

November 2008? Isn’t there an election around there somewhere?

Tristero writing at Digby points out:

….Notice the colloquial, ungrammatical “A bunch of us activists.” You’d think he was some kind of stringy-haired student with a denim jacket full of “Peace Now” buttons. In fact, as the Times puts it, he’s “a shopping center magnate based in St. Petersburg, Fla., who served as the ambassador to Italy and Australia.”

This far removed from the fake erudition of an old-style conservative like William F. Buckley….But don’t kid yourself: The use of “us activists” is quite deliberate, setting up the equally grammatically crude putdown “it just got to be obnoxious.” Sembler may actually talk like a stoner in real life – who knows or cares? – but clearly he’s doing so on purpose here. Remember: this is coming from an ambassador, not some Motley Crue fan slurping on a bong….

Is that sort of like cutting brush at a fake ranch?

Digby catches the media – The Outsiders:

Outsiders Aim to Frame Political Debate

By JIM KUHNHENN
The Associated Press
Friday, September 28, 2007; 2:00 PM

WASHINGTON — They raise millions of dollars, conduct provocative ad campaigns, work with a vast network of like-minded allies and have the power to frame the presidential election going forward as much as the candidates themselves.

That used to define only the liberal MoveOn.org, an organization of 3.3 million members that has raised $25 million in the past 18 months and is helping spearhead an anti-war coalition.

Now, a group of conservatives and Republicans with close ties to the White House have formed their own enterprise, Freedom’s Watch, landing on the political scene with a $15 million ad campaign to defend President Bush’s Iraq war strategy….

Hmmm. 3.3 million people raise $25 million. Grassroots. Hmmmm. A dozen or so wealthy insiders which our useless media labels as “outsiders” contribute $15 million. Grassroots? One of these things is not like the other. A four year old could figure out the difference. No wonder right wingnuts hate educational children’s programming on public television.

Taylor Marsh had their number with the group’s August 2007 ad:

….Check out the number at the end of the ad….Go on, call it.

As I told my radio listeners earlier today, once you get through something amazing happens. The operator asks you a question. Yes, you’re expected to take part in a survey before she puts you through to Congress. But there’s a catch. The question asked goes something like this: Do you believe the Iraq war is important to the war on terror? They may have changed the question by now, because we’re on to them, but that’s what I was asked. If you say no, the operator immediately thanks you but doesn’t connect you to Congress. Instead, she asks if you have anything else to say and then basically gets rid of you. They’re only allowing people who agree with them through….

That sums it all up, eh?