Critics from the pro-spending, pro-government side of the ideological spectrum have famously been throwing the charge of “Astroturf” — i.e. fake “grass roots” — at the various TEA Party gatherings and town hall meetings that have been flaring up across the nation since April 15.

Perhaps the most famous of the accusations has come from U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. The allegation is that Americans showing up by the hundreds and even thousands all over the nation during the summer are mindless drones being ordered to attack President Obama and Democrats.

Various Republicans would beg to differ, as the TEA Party team is often just as apt to bite them as anybody else. Just ask Texas Sen. Jon Cornyn and Gov. Rick Perry, who were booed when they tried to speak at a recent TEA Party gathering.

So what does this “Astroturf” stuff look like, if it isn’t a couple of politicians showing up and being booed by hundreds of protesters who were supposed to be their friends? Yesterday’s MIRS newsletter might have the answer. It reported that 40 students were at the Capitol to show their support for the Michigan Promise grant, which gives students $1,000 for every year of schooling they complete. Democratic Sens. Mike Prusi, D-Ispheming, Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, Liz  Brater, D-Ann Arbor, Deb Cherry, D-Burton, and Democratic Reps. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, Pam Byrnes, D-Chelsea, and Barb Byrum, D-Ononda, along with Mitchell Rivard, president of the Michigan State Student Democrats, all spoke on behalf of the program, which is facing elimination as part of the Legislature's plan to fix it's overspending crisis heading into the FY 2009-2010 budget.

Let’s see, that’s one “organizer” from an explicitly partisan campus political organization, seven friendly partisan representatives from the political establishment and no more than 40 actual protesters. And of those 40, how many are also members of the explicitly partisan Democratic group that organized the rally? (The two viable answers here are “most of them” or “this is the most pathetic college Democratic club in the history of the Big Ten.”)

So — being very generous — that is at least one partisan political agitator for every five supposedly “grassroots” demonstrators. But even assuming the 40 were ALL real students not being directed to score political points, what is up with the paltry turnout? Michigan State is in session and just a short bike ride down the road from the Capitol. There are more than 40,000 students there. Lansing Community College is two blocks away. And college students are hardly notorious for being the most “pressed for time” people on the planet.

What would Nancy Pelosi and Paul Krugman have to say about this? This gives “Astroturfing” a bad name. It’s more like “cheap green spray paint on white concrete.”