Citizens United and 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations
“Propaganda” is a form of communication aimed at emotionally influencing the public’s attitude toward some cause or position as opposed to impartially providing information.
There are grassroots 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations that actually educate and open up public dialogue with information to allow for well-informed decisions. There are also others with grassroot-sounding names fueled by corporate lobbyists who use the powerful and effective tools of fear and distrust to swiftly shut down debate. Some of these “public policy” sounding organizations claim to be non-partisan “think tanks” but are puppet organizations of corporate lobbyists.
For example, Source Watch organization SourceWatch.org identifies Employment Policies Institute (EPI) as one of several front entities formed by lobbyist Rick Berman, Berman & Co., a Washington, DC public affairs lobbying firm for the restaurant, hotel, alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries.
Berman’s website boasts: “Berman and Company isn’t your average PR firm. Our mission is to ‘change the debate,’ not simply contribute to it.”
According to Source Watch, during the Clinton administration health care reform debate Berman created a front group called the “Partnership on Health Care and Employment.” PHCE then used Berman’s EPI study claiming that the Clinton plan would wipe out 3.1 million jobs. Source Watch reports that EPI’s study was cited in television “commercials sponsored by the Republican National Committee, which continued to air even after Berman admitted that his study had actually been produced before the Clinton administration even formulated the details of its health plan.”
While the renewed health care reform debate unfolded in Congress recently, EPI once again launched a multi-million dollar highly effective television, print and radio campaign to agitate and rally the public against any real health care reform. Berman showed the power to change the debate.
Grassroots? Yes, in the sense that these entities reach the public and move them to action through fear, anger and distrust daily through the internet and other mass marketing techniques. They effectively reach hundreds of thousands of people and shut down public debate by providing incremental 60 second sound bites to the mainstream media who then broadcasts the propaganda to the nation.
Unfortunately, the public has become increasingly polarized by the propaganda fostered by lobbyist driven “grassroots” organizations who exploit and mobilize groups of people through fear and anger.
Shamefully, neither the public nor the mainstream media has recognized the cause of the bitter divisiveness in our country or how quickly the psychological methods shut down important debate in Congress. These organizations are a direct threat to our democracy and contrary to the best interests of the American public at large.
With the recent Supreme Court 5-4 radical decision treating corporations the same as individuals and asserting that federal laws cannot limit corporate speech, legislation requiring public disclosure of lobbyist driven “grassroots” advertising campaigns is needed more than ever. Individuals have constitutional rights. Corporations are legally recognized business entities.
Tracy Emblem is an attorney and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress, California 's 50th District.
For more information, visit SourceWatch's website. SourceWatch’s has devoted a special page to the Supreme Court's decision. Also for a more detailed list of Berman’s “grassroot” entities, you can visit this site.