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Citizen Groups Without Citizens

I’ll admit, I like to listen to talk radio. I still remember, as a kid in Portland, Oregon, tuning into San Francisco’s KGO at night with my radio hidden under my pillow to listen to all-night talk. I even worked for five years as a talk radio host at Seattle’s 570 KVI.

Recently, I’ve noticed that talk radio listeners are being bombarded with radio ads supporting a “Conservative Immigration Policy.” The radio ad purports to be representing a coalition of conservative citizens supporting comprehensive immigration reform. This is the plan laid out by the U.S. Senate’s Gang of Eight.

But as I discovered, the old adage holds true: You can’t believe everything you hear on the radio.

You see, the ads go something like this: “Conservatives like Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan are working to make sure we have a tough, enforceable immigration system that closes our borders and makes all those illegals go to the back of the line to await possible future citizenship.”

But the bill they’re talking about is just the opposite of what radio ads lay out. In fact, enforcement of immigration laws at the border comes long after the bill declares a general amnesty for past violations of the law.

K Street Tactics

The ads are paid for by an organization titled “Americans for a Conservative Direction.” I was surprised to hear any organization of self-identified conservatives supporting legislation sponsored by four of the U.S. Senate’s biggest Liberals: Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado.

So I did some research.

As it turns out, my surprise was warranted. In reality, the ads are being paid for by Silicon Valley tech giants that want to bring more foreign workers to the United States. Chief among the funders is Obama-supporting billionaire and Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.

Think this is an isolated incident? Think again. Using corporate-backed citizen groups to push legislation is one of the K Street lobbyists’ favorite tactics.

You see, lobbyists don’t only play their game in the District. They love to build what they call “grassroots” support for whatever special interest they’re peddling all across the country. To do this, they form citizen’s organizations.

Americans for a Conservative Direction is just the latest in a string of phony-baloney citizen groups used to convince voters to support legislation that benefits no one but corporate special interests.

A Big-Money Venture

Corporate giants love building these ad hoc coalitions because they’re able to put brawn and money behind a targeted lobbying campaign. Scarcely a week goes by in Washington without a fresh group appearing. And these groups are lobbyist darlings because they’re so successful at manipulating people. Why buttonhole a member of Congress when you can get his constituent to do your work?

If you want a perfect example, look no further than the current drive for corporate tax reform. Multiple coalitions have sprung up with names such as The Alliance for Competitive Taxation, the LIFT America Coalition and the RATE Coalition. Dozens of major companies including FedEx, Intel, Nike and Verizon have paid top dollar to join these particular tax reform groups.

More and more, there seems to be a coalition for all issues. For instance, the Coalition to Strengthen the Future of Molecular Diagnostics lobbies Congress on reimbursement rates for molecular diagnostic testing. Or take the Coalition for Derivatives End-Users. They lobby Congress to limit the scope of the Dodd-Frank law.

Forming coalitions has become a fast-growing and very lucrative niche amongst the K Street crowd. Companies pay $25,000 or more to join a coalition, so the money flows quickly into the pockets of the organizing firm. The only problem is that they often forget to include the actual citizens.

Your eyes on the Hill,

Floyd Brown

Floyd Brown

, Political Expert

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