Dear Lobbyists: When Crafting Astroturf Letters, Remember To Do A Search & Replace On XYZ Corp.

from the just-a-suggestion dept

We were just talking about how one of the worst tricks of DC lobbyists is to get various special interest groups to send letters on your behalf, even though those are really written by the lobbyists themselves. The quote in that original article that highlights the practice shows how it works:
"You go down the Latino people, the deaf people, the farmers, and choose them.... You say, 'I can't use this one--I already used them last time...' We had their letterhead. We'd just write the letter. We'd fax it to them and tell them, 'You're in favor of this.'"
Indeed. Well, it looks like in the process of faxing and telling a senior citizen's group what they were in favor of, AT&T's anti-net neutrality lobbyists forgot to do a bit of searching and replacing. Karl Bode points us to a hilarious letter filed with the FCC about net neutrality (pdf), officially on behalf of the Arkansas Retired Seniors Coalition -- the exact type of group often used in these astroturfing campaigns -- which suggests that someone didn't proofread the letter first:
Right in the first paragraph, it looks like the Arkansas Retired Seniors (or perhaps the lobbyist directly) forgot to change out the boilerplate statement: "XYZ organization shares this concern." XYZ organization, huh? Here's an editing tip for AT&T's lobbyists: when crafting such letters with boilerplate language that's supposed to get changed at a later date before being sent off to the FCC, you should highlight that text in a different color. Saves embarrassing mistakes like this one.

In researching this further, Karl also can't find any other evidence that the Arkansas Retired Seniors exist. Separately, he found another mistake by the lobbyists when it sent a different anti-net neutrality letter from Grumman Shipbuilding (ship builders against neutrality?). This one wasn't as egregious, but the lobbyists forgot to remove the header info that says "Governor/PUC Letters to FCC on Net Neutrality" with the neat little classification system the lobbyists use: "Letter 2: Specific to Investment and Employment." Wonder what the original header for XYZ organization was?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 7:00am

    Google search

    Have you done a Google search on "XYZ organization"? It turns up this news story on other sites followed by an ass load of form letters such as the one used in the story, plus some really odd listings.

    I think my favorite was www.jewishtoronto.net, which includes a general tab called "Doing Jewish", which brought the memory of some ex girlfriends to my mind...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    vivaelamor (profile), Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 7:07am

    Fraud

    I wonder how much in damages could be claimed for this?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 7:17am

    Letters to lobby are nothing more than expressions of a vote, yeah or nay, on a subject. Form letters are a simple way to make it possible for large numbers of people to make that vote, to express an opinion.

    Forgetting to make a replacement is really too bad, but it doesn't really detract from the concept.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 7:21am

    How do you know it was AT&T?

    How do you know this letter wasn't farmed out by another anti net neutrality company like one of the cable companies?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Free Capitalist (profile), Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 7:26am

    Re:

    Letters to lobby are nothing more than expressions of a vote, yeah or nay, on a subject. Form letters are a simple way to make it possible for large numbers of people to make that vote, to express an opinion.


    I'm pretty sure Sequoia set up this system.

    No seriously, I correspond with my reps a couple of times a year. One time I used an EFF letter, and got a reply from my house rep and one of my Senators that they are no longer reading, or responding (or even tallying as far as I could tell) to mass-generated form letters.

    I hope they feel the same way regardless of WHO is handing them the boilerplate "votes".

    But the core issue here is that if, as you say, these letters constitute a "vote", then by making up companies and attributing opinions to individuals who have no opinion, these lobbyists are committing (voter) fraud.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 8:01am

    Your world, delivered for only $19.99 more a month.

    I am looking for someone who wants to file a class action against someone's clever use of IMEI-based service blocking.

    It works like this: SimTool Kit is a piece of software on the SIM card, and upon powerup can be configured to send IMEI or handset information. At which point, the network could then send settings to SimTool Kit which over-ride user-entered personalization featuresets.

    If a nefarious company wanted to push certain segments of their users into higher-revenue rate plans, they could deliberately retard phone capabilities by over-riding settings.

    This network-set personalization could be used to remove featuresets such as MMS and/or internet capabilities on handsets such as iPhones.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 8:12am

    Re: Re:

    One time I used an EFF letter, and got a reply from my house rep and one of my Senators that they are no longer reading, or responding (or even tallying as far as I could tell) to mass-generated form letters.

    So you got a response saying that they're not responding? Seems a bit contradictory.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 8:20am

    Re:

    "Form letters are a simple way to make it possible for large numbers of people to make that vote,"

    It's also a simple way for large corporations and lobbying companies to astroturf a subject and make it appear that far more voters agree with their corporate opinion than actually do.

    That's why they're viewed with great suspicion not only by real people, but by many (most?) elected representatives. All of the congresscritters in my area claim to ignore and not tally form letters. Who knows if they really do, though.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 8:23am

    Re: Your world, delivered for only $19.99 more a month.

    Not sure how this connects to the subject, but two questions: have you actually had this happen to you? If not, then you don't have a case. If so, then why not sue them as an individual? You don't have to go class action and, indeed, will likely see a larger settlement if you don't.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    iamtheky (profile), Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 8:42am

    http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&tab=wl&q=1%20treetops,%20little%20rock%20ar

    looks like a quality group working out of some very nice offices.....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 8:42am

    Re: Your world, delivered for only $19.99 more a month.

    Spam? SPAM!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Free Capitalist (profile), Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 9:10am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I found it rather odd too. They both sent a canned response that I believe was automatically generated because I used the web service to contact my reps in that case.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 9:36am

    Re: Google search

    To funny

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    iamtheky (profile), Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 9:44am

    Looks like everyone got the same template on the 13th, it spurred some counter-arguments as well.

    State senator Steele felt strongly enough to sign the legislative black caucus memo, and then rewite the boilerplate (leaving in all the hip new keywords) and slap the assistant pro tempore tag on it.

    http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/ecfs2/comment_search/execute?proceeding=&applicant=&lawfirm=&am p;author=&disseminated.minDate=&disseminated.maxDate=&recieved.minDate=&recieved.max Date=&address.city=Little+Rock&address.state.stateCd=AR&address.zip=&daNumber=&f ileNumber=&submissionTypeId=7&__checkbox_exParte=true

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 10:43am

    Re:

    ...Except for the fact that it actually does.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    1DandyTroll, Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 12:15pm

    Probability dictates

    it wouldn't do AT&T any good, it would still read XYZ organization, just bit more color full in its state of being highlighted.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Spanky, Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 8:23pm

    re

    Of course, if ATT REALLY wanted to get sophisticated, they'd learn how to use mail merge. But that would require some work, and ATT would never want to have to work. They just expect us to hand it over.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Matt Cutts, Oct 24th, 2009 @ 1:09pm

    Here's a new development

    According to http://www.journalism.missouri.edu/news/2007/05-01-reunion-rally.html the person who signed the letter, Bob Sells of Little Rock, AR, "worked in public relations at Southwestern Bell for 28 years." I checked the white pages and it appears there's only one Bob or Robert Sells in Little Rock, AR, so it's probably the same person.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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