Is it real or is it astroturf? Advocacy groups are popping up all over, taking positions on everything from health care to the environment, and it’s not always easy to tell if they are what they claim to be. How can you distinguish a real grassroots organization from a fake?
The Center for Media and Democracy has just posted a detailed guide to unmasking groups that often have “a feel-good name, like Americans-for-Something-Sane-and-Sensible” but are basically fronts for hidden agendas.
First, find out if the group is even real. Check for a street address and phone number; be suspicious if they’re not listed online. Look for the names of directors and staff, then search to see where else they’ve worked. Run a whois search on their Web address to see where the URL is registered and in whose name.
Then figure out how the group is funded.
Some front groups go to great lengths to conceal their origins, funders and personnel links to sponsors. However, the likelihood that these will be exposed anyway, with embarrassing consequences for a group’s credibility, has led many…organizations to opt for a strategy of selective disclosure, in which funders are mentioned in an annual report or other obscure publication, but are not mentioned in the organization’s most common communications that reach the largest audience, like newsletters or Web sites.
One place to look for background is the wiki, Sourcewatch. Consumer Reports also has a site called Full Frontal Scrutiny. Both are affiliated with the Center for Media and Democracy, which has a liberal agenda. But the strategies they suggest can be applied to investigate any kind of front, whether it’s backed by a corporation, a union or a political party.