What does New York Alliance for Environmental Concerns advocate for? Whom does Citizens for Fire Safety Institute represent?
Both, it turns out, work on behalf of businesses that produce or use chemicals. Lobbying always has an element of spin, but some organizations make it easy to misunderstand whom they speak or what they stand for.
As the current state legislative session winds down, the New York World used its Lobbies at the Top database as a starting point to identify organizations that lobbied state officials in the past two years and whose names appear to disguise their objectives.
Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas coined a word for the phenomenon: “astroturf.” Facing a deluge of letters from the insurance industry, he is reported to have said: “A fellow from Texas can tell the difference between grass roots and Astroturf.”
A trademark for artificial turf grass has since been reborn as a label for any faux-populist lobbying. Groups that present a sympathetic face, and speak to loftier principles than a company’s bottom line, tend to get better hearings in the press and among image-conscious politicians.
Astroturf comes in big and small packages, from an influential trade group whose actions affect hundreds of thousands of rent regulated tenants in New York State to a proxy for a single fireworks manufacturer.