Grassroots, Lobbying and Astroturfing Advertising Law
Research Assignment #2 Lobbying is a controversial branch of public relations that is both an important and relevant part of the United States legal system. A lobby is “a group of persons who work or conduct a campaign to influence members of a legislature to vote according to the group’s special interest. ” Lobbyists are paid to petition the government for redress of grievances, a right that is protected by the First Amendment. Another more comedic way the profession is defined in the movie “Thank You For Smoking” when the character, who is a lobbyist, says, “Most importantly, we have spin control.
That’s where I come in. I get paid to talk. I don’t have an MD or Law degree. I have a baccalaureate in kicking ass and taking names. ” Grassroots efforts and campaigns are groups of people with similar views coming together, sometimes bringing a particular issue to debate. They normally represent a group’s political views and can become very well-known. The term “grassroots” implies that the movement is spontaneous and natural. An astroturf campaign can be defined as a “grassroots effort” that is actually a strategic marketing campaign financially backed by businesses and special-interest groups.
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It is a false front being paid for by someone with “deep pockets” and an agenda. The name “astroturf” is taken from the brand of false grass used in sports stadiums. A Political Action Committee (PAC) is a committee that campaigns for or against a political candidate or legislation. In 1971, the Federal Election Campaign Act went into effect, prohibiting corporations and labor unions from contributing money from their treasuries to a political campaign. Under this act, they were also forbidden to provide any “in-kind” services to any candidate.
A PAC is considered a separate unit of a corporation with its own treasury, so any individual wishing to contribute is permitted to. Lobbying, PACs, grassroots movements, and astroturfing are closely related because each of these activities involves political speech, large sums of money and specific controversies. Lobbyists meet directly with legislation and can influence their decisions. The more money a group has, the more lobbyists they can afford to represent them. This could be considered a problem because it means not all groups’ views can be defended equally to members of Congress.
The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in 2010 changed the way PACs could operate. It was held that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government is not permitted to keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce a political candidate. In addition, the SpeechNow. org v. FEC case held that corporations can give unlimited amounts of money to outside groups, as long as expenditures are made independently from the candidate supported.
The two rulings in these cases have caused Super PACs to emerge. These PACs are federally registered and raise millions of dollars to support a particular candidate. They are considered controversial because of how few people are actually funding these huge sums of money. A recent study by the U. S. Public Interest Group found that, “Super PACs raised about $181 million in the last year, with roughly half of it coming from less than 200 super-rich people. ” It was also discovered that over 90 percent of the contributions were at least $10,000.
Lobbyists and Super PACs can cause conflicts of interest because the opinions of large corporations and wealthy people are heard more than those of normal citizens. Although political spending is considered a form of political speech, not everyone can afford to spend thousands of dollars to support their view. The idea of money being equal to political speech has the potential to corrupt the democratic system of the United States. Astroturfing has emerged as a controversy recently because it is also funded by large corporations and wealthy individuals.
While it is not illegal, it is unethical and deceptive. This activity tends to occur when the opinion of the people conflicts with the opinion of a powerful corporation or group. The government does not currently regulate grassroots movements, so it is not possible for an astroturf campaign to be regulated or controlled. If lobbying, PACs and astroturfing remain as they are now, the voice of actual citizens will become less and less important. More regulations on these activities in the future will be controversial, but they are vital to the democracy of the United States.