Washington Babylon — June 29, 2007, 1:10 pm

A “Grassroots” Anecdote

I’ve received a large number of tips in response to my story about Washington lobbyists and their plans to sell the Stalinist regime of Turkmenistan, which appears in the July issue of the magazine. I’ll be looking into some of them, and hopefully this will lead to more stories on lobbyists later.

For now, though, let me share one story because the events in question took place long ago, and the source was not willing to provide the name of the lobbying firm involved, making it all but impossible to track down. He did, however, offer enough details that I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of his account. And the story, I think, gives some valuable insight into how lobby shops actually work.

The source told me that he had direct knowledge of a campaign mounted by a “grassroots” lobby shop–those that manufacture allegedly spontaneous outpourings of support for legislation or causes being pushed by their clients. “Grassroots” lobbyists specialize in generating huge numbers of constituent calls or letters to members of Congress, and in setting up allegedly independent front groups to push legislation.

Those are pretty routine deceptions. But according to my source, one lobby firm working for a health care interest was willing to go the extra mile. When members of Congress returned from Washington, D.C., to visit their home districts, this lobby shop would obtain their schedules. Then it would arrange for plants to turn up at the stops–a hospital, say, or a school, or a public forum. The plant, presumably dressed to play a part, would approach the member of Congress to “spontaneously” voice their concerns. (“Congressman, that new health care bill is gonna put hard-working folk like me out on the street. Something has got to be done to stop it!”) The source told me the lobbyists were quite pleased with their handiwork and highly amused about how effective it was.

By the way, tougher disclosure rules for grassroots lobbyists are not likely to be part of the new lobbying rules that Congress will approve later this year–if it ever gets around to passing them. Both the House and Senate passed (watered down) reform packages earlier this year but so far have not managed to iron out the differences between them and put together a final bill.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

January 2015

Come With Us If You Want to Live

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Body Politic

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Problem of Pain Management

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Game On

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Love Crimes

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Body Politic·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“‘He wrote all these love poems, but he was a son of a bitch,’ said a reporter from a wire service.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
Love Crimes·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If a man rapes a woman, she might be forced to marry him, because in Afghanistan sex before marriage is dishonorable.”
Photographs © Andrew Quilty/Oculi/Agence VU
Article
Game On·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union had posed a truly existential threat.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Come With Us If You Want to Live·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I was startled that all these negative ideologies could be condensed so easily into a positive worldview.”
Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Christmas in Prison·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Just so you motherfuckers know, I’ll be spending Christmas with my family, eating a good meal, and you’ll all be here, right where you belong.”
Photographer unknown. Artwork courtesy Alyse Emdur

Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:

36,000

A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.

Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today