What phony grassroots really look like

In politics it’s referred to as “Astroturf”, political protests done by paid professionals, done to look like the work of volunteer grassroots activists. More than one politician has accused TEA Party opponents of nationalized health care of engaging in this deception, but now we have evidence that one union in Massachusetts is paying top dollar for its own political show.

The video footage, which comes from the “Fleming and Hayes” blog, was apparently taken outside of a debate between Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown, candidates in a special election for the U.S. Senate. The cameraman found himself among a contingent of Sheet Metal Workers wearing Coakley T-shirts who admit they were paid to attend the rally. “They want their 50 bucks they have to do what they’re told” as one man puts it. One “Coakley supporter” goes so far as to say he’s actually going to vote for Brown -- now that’s conviction! In Massachusetts the union’s grassroots are every bit as fake as the notorious “blue turf” at Boise State’s football stadium.

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That’s also the sort of thing that could get pretty expensive; $50 per person for a couple hours of sign-holding is the equivalent of several weeks of membership dues for a typical union worker. Now multiply that by the dozens of union workers typically seen at a rally and then keep in mind that a competitive campaign could have dozens of events of this sort. The Sheet Metal Workers could be spending tens of thousands of dollars just on sign wavers.

Our 2008 study on union spending found that little more than half of a typical union’s dues went toward workplace representation. In the case of the MEA and its local affiliates, that figure was as low as one-third. There are a lot of union members at political rallies both in Massachusetts and in Michigan. One can’t help but wonder how many are genuine volunteers who are motivated by support for the union’s agenda, and how many are there for the money.