Corporatism, Media — June 4, 2015 at 9:32 am

A glimpse behind the curtain of how Koch-funded corporate front groups manipulate the news you read on the internet


Over the past several years, I have written about how corporate front groups, largely funded by corporatists like the Koch brothers and their network of fake grassroots (“astroturf”) groups, manipulate the media to serve their corporate bottom lines. They use this network to amplify their corporate messages, disguised as “reporting” or “news”, jacking up their search engine hits, and ensuring that their slant on things dominates what you see on the internet and elsewhere. The terrific investigative journalist Lee Fang has written extensively on this, as well. You can read my interview with him HERE, my overview of his excellent reporting for The Nation HERE, and my review of his book The Machine: A Field Guide to the Resurgent Right HERE. In his reporting, Fang reveals how widespread this practice is and how profoundly it impacts the news you read.

Yesterday, I got a taste of how this process sometimes plays out. Via the contact page on Eclectablog, I received this email:

Name: Ann Pace
Comment: We need your help spreading the word about Internet Regulation. We can email you several options for you to share on your website as well as personal platforms.

The DEADLINE IS JUNE 12TH—The time window for stopping Internet regulation is fast approaching, and we need your help turning up the heat a NOTCH to get petitions signed.

Here’s why:

  • $11 billion in new fees to line the spending coffers of reckless government officials.
  • An annual TAX INCREASE of $67 per US Household
  • It’s another power grab by Obama to further control media to the advantage of his supporters and his agenda, by stripping current businesses of their capabilities.
  • When politics and government control the media, they control the flow of information. We’ve seen this before with repressive governments.
  • Those same controls also allow them to collect more mandatory taxes and fees to support their continued control.


Warm regards,
Ann Pace

A quick look at their website showed that this was a corporate front group engaging in one last-ditch effort to derail new net neutrality rules promulgated by the FCC. As readers of this blog know, I am 100% supportive of the new rules so I was obviously not interested in what Ms. Pace was peddling.

My response to her was this:

Sure, send me what you have. I’d be happy to mock it publicly on my liberal blog.

I instantly regretted the decision, wishing I had instead played along to see what they would send to me. However, my email telling them I would publicly mock their efforts didn’t dissuade them. I was astonished when, several minutes later, Ann sent me another email:

Thank you for your support Chris!

Attached is the outreach packet to post on your blog and social media platforms. If you’ve already signed up, we’d love for you to join our Thunderclap—a mass message that will go out on social media on June 8:

Ask your friends and followers to take this five-question quiz on Internet Regulation to learn how they can help too:

Warm regards,

Attached to the email was a zip file with a prewritten blog entry, a slickly-produced infographic, 13 separate graphics (with no reference to their group American Commitment), and a Word document with multiple sample tweets and Facebook posts. The links she provided in the email are to an online push poll and a signup page for a Thunderclap they have planned for June 8th.

You can download the entire 5 MB zip file for yourself HERE.

Their message is comical, at best. If you are to believe their rhetoric, net neutrality is going to lead to the demise of the internet. Their blog post literally tells us that “Your life is at REAL RISK”!

The internet is a powerful thing, apparently, and, according to American Commitment, any regulation of it could kill you.

So, who is American Commitment, the group behind this effort? As the title of this post implies, they are little more than a corporate front group who are funded, at least in part, by the Koch brothers and their network of astroturf groups. They are currently working to kill regulation of the big telcomm businesses that want to control the internet by stopping the FCC’s new net neutrality rules.

The Washington Post wrote this about the group after they appeared on the scene in 2012:

If you live in a swing state with a competitive Senate race, there’s a new name you might have seen on your TV screen: American Commitment.

The conservative 501(c)(4) nonprofit group is on the air in five states attacking Democratic candidates.

American Commitment was founded by Phil Kerpen, who previously spent five years working at Americans for Prosperity. Before that, he worked for the Club for Growth, a Club offshoot called the Free Enterprise Fund and the libertarian Cato Institute.

AFP was co-founded by oil industry billionaire David Koch, but Kerpen would not say whether Koch and his brother Charles were helping fund his new group. “We take very seriously the privacy of protecting all of our contributors,” he told the Fix. He did not attend the Koch brothers’ recent fundraising summit in San Diego, although he has attended such confabs in the past.

“We’re going to spend as much as we can raise,” Kerpen said. The new group has raised $7 million so far and plans to focus on state-level races rather than on the presidential race, where numerous outside groups are already hammering President Obama.

There’s $1.2 million behind two ads attacking Sen. Sherrod Brown in Ohio, $1.1 million behind an ad attacking Sen. Bill Nelson in Florida, a little under $500,000 hitting Rep. Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, $115,000 against Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, $114,000 against Rep. Martin Heinrich in New Mexico and $110,000 against Rep. Shelley Berkley in Nevada and on health care.

While Kerpen wouldn’t admit to receiving funding from Koch-affiliated groups, The Center for Media and Democracy details those connections HERE.

American Commitment didn’t just go after progressive candidates. They were also behind a wide array of corporate efforts to kill regulations, cut taxes, and support candidates who do their bidding. Here are some of their websites:

  • – An anti-tax effort.
  • – An anti-Obamacare website.
  • – A greenwashing effort to stop regulation of the coal industry and the pollution generated by coal-burning power plants.
  • – A comical effort to stop “anti-ALEC bullying” of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded bill mill that writes pro-Big Business legislation for states legislators.
  • – A pro-Keystone XL pipeline website.
  • – A now defunct website fighting the recall effort against Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.
  • – A now defunct anti-Obama website.

The investigative group did an excellent exposé of American Commitment back in 2013, revealing a tangled web of funding, including a mysterious $9.3 million (and more) in donations that were never properly accounted for:

What happened to the $9.3 million that went from TC4 Trust to the mystery American Commitment group is unclear. If it had been given to the newer, currently active American Commitment, it should have shown up on the current group’s 990. But that form indicated only $216,500 in receipts. And the mystery group filed no 990s indicating where the money might have gone. […]

Money seems plentiful in this labyrinth of groups working in support of conservative causes, none of them disclosing their donors. But somehow, more than $11 million appears to have slipped away.

In March of this year, POLITICO reported that American Commitment delivered “1.6 million messages…from more than half a million voters” to lawmakers asking them to kill the FCC’s net neutrality regulations, many of which appeared to be falsified and not actually sent by the people whose names were on them:

The flood of traffic seemed to raise some lawmakers’ eyebrows, including Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California, whose office soon determined some of the messages had come from constituents who didn’t recall sending them. Her aides pointed to a memo sent to members’ staff last week by Lockheed Martin, which manages the technology behind some lawmakers’ “contact me” Web pages. Lockheed initially said it had “some concerns regarding the messages,” including the fact that “a vast majority of the emails do not appear to have a valid in-district address.” In some cases, Lockheed also questioned the “legitimacy of the email address contact associated with the incoming message[s].”

“The idea that an outside group could use consumer data to impersonate constituents suggests an attempt to hijack the important feedback members of Congress need to truly represent their districts,” Speier said in a statement, without naming a culprit. […]

All of those messages — mostly pre-written by American Commitment — slammed the FCC for treating the Internet like a public utility. Some of the emails called on Congress to “pass language in an upcoming must-pass vehicle that blocks any move by the FCC” to continue down its path. Another derided net neutrality supporters as “extremists.” A third criticized Obama for having “publicly instructed the FCC, which is supposed to be an independent agency, to reduce the Internet to a government-controlled utility.”

Speier’s office noted the similar emails and then calculated that about 98 percent of the messages had come from constituents that her office had never heard from before. The congresswoman’s team set about trying to reply to some senders, and a few of the constituents replied that they had never signed up to send emails criticizing net neutrality. […]

“This is identity theft, but instead of impersonating for financial gain, the originators of this theft are striking at the heart of our representative democracy,” Speier said.

You can read more about American Commitment and their corporate shilling at Crooks and Liars and The Center for Public Integrity.

I’ve known for some time that these corporate front groups were disseminating the pro-Big Business propaganda to slant the news we read but this is a bit of a rare glimpse behind the curtain as to how it is sometimes done. In many cases, they actually pay for bloggers and professional “trolls” to write for them, submit letters to the editor and op-eds to newspapers, downrate articles on sites like Reddit, and give bad reviews to liberal books on places like while uprating pro-business books. In this case, they are fishing for free exposure from bloggers, apparently without checking first to see if the bloggers actually agree with their corporatist agenda.

You can expect their blog post, or some version of it, along with their infographic and other free graphics to begin appearing on conservative blogs over the next week.