Saturday, February 2, 2013

Blue Astroturfing and stealth raisins

On November 5, 2010 I blogged about how I didn’t like unknown advocacy groups pouring money into political campaigns. I called that lack of transparency stealth raisins. They were like some oatmeal cookies where there was raisin paste you couldn’t see, instead of them being labeled as oatmeal-raisin cookies.

Astroturfing happens when a political, advertising, or public relations campaign is  organized to appear being from the grassroots and mask the actual sponsors. Since 1986 the playing surface at Boise State University’s Bronco Stadium has been covered with blue artificial turf. So, the local color for astroturfing would be blue rather than the usual green. In the 2012 election in Idaho we had a good example. It was from a group that favored three referendums for education reform that asked voters to approve what the state legislature had passed in 2011 (widely known as the Luna laws).

Last October 22nd the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington and the Idaho Statesman here in Boise printed a sanctimonious opinion piece titled Education Voters of Idaho: Parents must have final say in how schools are run. Part of it said:

“There are too few groups advocating for the rights of parents with school-age children and for the smart approach demanded by taxpayers who fund our system.

That’s why we started Education Voters of Idaho (EVI). Over the last two years we have watched the debate over education reform with increasing frustration, even disdain. Like most Idahoans, we were tired of education reform getting caught up in politics and being focused on personalities. We decided to do something about it, and founded EVI to push sound policies on behalf of parents and taxpayers throughout the state. Our voices and the voices of thousands of others like us need to be heard.”

Then Ben Ysursa, the Idaho Secretary of State, asked EVI to reveal who its donors were since they were a political committee subject to the Sunshine Initiative. They claimed they were a nonprofit and didn’t, so he sued them. EVI lost the suit in the 4th Judicial District (Case CV-OC-2012-19280), and then revealed where their  $640,000 really came from.

Albertson’s supermarket heir Joe Scott  gave $250,000 (or 39%), and Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City gave $200,000 (or 31%). So, 70% of the money came from just two very wealthy donors. That’s not very grassroots, and was a public relations disaster.

Voters in Idaho conclusively rejected all three referendums. Two of them lost in all 44 counties in the state, and the third only lost in 37 of 44 counties.

The close-up view of artificial turf was recolored from this one.

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