Yves here. It’s become routine to expose some of the supposedly organic proposals that come out of the Tea Party as actually sponsored by the Koch Brothers and other big corporate interests. We didn’t want to leave Democrats out in the cold in the astroturfing game. Gaius Publius discusses one ecosystem: a consulting firm, “270 Strategies” and one of its phony creations, the Progressive Coalition for American Jobs.
By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, Americablog, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook.A version of this piece first appeared at digby’s Hullabaloo. GP article archive here.
I recently did a piece looking at the Democratic consulting shop “270 Strategies” — a group that’s been characterized as involved in “astroturfing” by the Daily Kos diarist Liberty Equality Fraternity and Trees. Her (or his) headline was:
Obama Campaign Alumni Form New Astroturf Group to Promote TPP
That’s accurate, but a little confusing. There are actually two groups involved. Obama campaign alumnae (or alumni) — Lynda Tran, Mitch Stewart and Jeremy Bird — are founding partners of the PR and digital consulting shop “270 Strategies.” And the “astroturf” group is their client (or brainchild), the “Progressive Coalition for American Jobs.”
Let’s continue our look at 270 Strategies, since their efforts on behalf of TPP have already borne fruit. From a news piece around the time 270 Strategies was created:
[Lynda Tran, the] communications director at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is leaving to join a new political firm founded by Obama campaign officials.
In an email to NHTSA staff on Friday, Administrator David Strickland announced spokeswoman Lynda Tran’s departure.
“For the past couple of years, I have had the pleasure and honor to have been befriended by, advised by and protected by one of the best professionals in government service,” Strickland said.
Tran said in a separate email to NHTSA staff that she will be a partner at 270 Strategies in Washington – a grassroots campaign firm named after the number of electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
The new firm is led by two former Obama for America officials, Mitch Stewart and Jeremy Bird, and describes itself as “helping clients build people-centered, data-driven and digitally sophisticated grassroots campaigns that achieve their strategic goals and change the world.”
Their press release for this event and that news article are from January 2013, so Tran, Stewart and Bird et al have been at this a while. 270 Strategies is a digital campaign shop (as in, they do political campaigns) and media placement outfit (as in, they place stories in the media to drive a client’s narrative). For a successful example of the latter, read on.
270 Strategies Says It’s “Progressive” To Be Pro-TPP; Politico Agrees
We got onto this story originally because 270 Strategies is part of a new campaign to get TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership, the next NAFTA-style trade agreement) passed. Obama wants it (badly), Pelosi is iffy at best about it, and all of the corporate-bought (through campaign “contributions”) members of Congress are ready to vote for it.
But there’s opposition as well. Against TPP are real progressives, most or all labor unions, most citizens who know anything about it or about NAFTA (a surprisingly large group), and many Republicans who don’t want to cede more power to the “Kenyan” in the White House. (Why’s that an issue? Because to pass TPP, Congress first has to pass “Fast Track” legislation, which neuters Congress’s role in the process. That mean the “Kenyan” wins in the minds of Tea Party legislators.)
So it’s going to be a struggle, either to pass or defeat TPP. Which is where 270 Strategies comes in. These ex-Obama campaign staffers have been hired to paint the TPP deal as “progressive” as a way to divide the left-leaning opposition. As we wrote earlier (emphasis mine):
The TPP wars are heating up, and the lobbyist money is flowing. The latest effort attempts to brand TPP as “progressive” instead of “neoliberal” — “neoliberal” being an obvious-by-now offshoot of the kind of pre-FDR “liberalism” that meant “privatized and controlled by the owners of wealth.”
Most people get that NAFTA was, to put it bluntly, a screw job for workers, that all the promises of new American jobs were lies, or at best, tales told by willing and well-rewarded dupes. That jury came in years ago. (If you don’t believe me, test it. Ask anyone you know, of any flavor of left or right, what they think of NAFTA.) It’s proponents needed a new angle, a new way to increase support and divide opposition. This, apparently, is that angle — “TPP, progressives support it too.”
TPP, 270 Strategies & Politico
Selling TPP as “progressive” is a stretch, but it’s an interesting move. It creates and leverages confusion on the left, and by dividing the left, attempts to finesse support for Fast Track, to sneak it past the finish line. Say “job killer” and the left is united against. Say “progressive” and “groundbreaking” and some on the left may be intrigued, may even be interested, may even be flattered enough to be tempted to agree.
This strategy may not work, but regardless, that’s the plan. 270 Strategies was hired to execute it — to put the confusion-sowing message bolded above, that TPP is a progressive treaty, into the mainstream press, to get that message mainsteam-blessed and make it part of “what everyone already knows.” As I said, a stretch, but that’s the job.
And just like magic, we suddenly see this in Politico (again, my emphasis):
RIFT AMONG PROGRESSIVES EMERGES ON TPP — Mitch Stewart, the battleground states director for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, and Lydia [actually Lynda] Tran, the former national press secretary for Organizing for America, launched a campaign to encourage giving the president fast-track authority over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Daily Kos reports. In a press release announcing the launch of the Progressive Coalition for American Jobs, Stewart said the campaign, which will start in Oregon and Washington state, was “about ensuring America is competitive in the global economy, about expanding the market for ‘Made in America’ goods, [and] about leveling the playing field to protect American workers and jobs.”
Politico goes on to say that the AFL doesn’t agree, but note their headline at the top of the larger article:
“Progressives Split on TPP”
Nice — and excellent message placement by the newly formed “Coalition” and their helpmates, 270 Strategies. Was this Politico paragraph the result of a nice “catch” by Politico, whose writers naturally read the same Daily Kos non-front-page diaries we do? Or did someone at the media-connected “270 Strategies” whisper into Politico’s ear on behalf of the “Coalition” and get them to put their — as I said, confusion-sowing — frame and message in the headline and then to bury the criticism (“astroturf” operation) behind a link that few will click? If I had to put money on it, I’d say the latter.
Notice that the “Coalition”-friendly framing is threaded throughout the paragraph. And notice that the only goal of this piece — of this whole operation, in fact — is to brand TPP as “progressive” and the disagreement as a disagreement “among progressives.” They don’t care, at this point, if the disagreement is covered, so long as it’s framed as a left-on-left discussion.
Mission accomplished. If 270 Strategies tried to be successful, they succeeded. If they didn’t try to succeed, they got very very lucky. Your call on which way this went down.
Insiders Helping Insiders Help Their Paymasters Make Money
This is what professional message placement looks like, from the mouths of paid PR professionals to pages like Politico’s to your ears and eyes. This is the game as it’s played. My subhead above, as usual with me these days, isn’t snark, but a simple statement of fact. 270 Strategies is a child (and a tool) of insiders — in this case, Obama campaign professionals Lynda Tran, Mitch Stewart and Jeremy Bird. They’re paid to pass pro–Big Money (in this case, pro-TPP) messaging to pro-insider media organizations, who pass it to you in a “here’s how to think about this” way. Just like the Sunday “news” shows, which are also “message placement” targets and operations.
Where’s the money alluded to in my subhead above? Easy. Politico has the position it does because it was clearly well financed as a start-up and has a decidedly insider point of view. Look into the histories of their mainstream-connected founding editors. 270 Strategies was created with start-up money as well. Was it money that came from only the founding partners, Tran, Stewart and Bird? Perhaps, but as financing stories go, not very likely. Most operations like this have seed money, and seed money comes from people who have money and want more of it. (I’m open to correction on this, by the way. 270 Strategies is free to contact me, and I’ll print what they send in this regard.)
Imagine how easy, for groups like 270 Strategies, seed money is to come by if you’re (a) Obama-connected and (b) exist to do stuff like take down Mike Honda, a real progressive, and to prop up people like Cory (“Don’t Be Mean to Bain“) Booker and longtime Clinton insider Terry McAuliffe (see their our-clients page for more). Work like that pays good money going forward as well, since attacks on progressive office-holders and defense of neoliberal (DLC and New Dem) types is very well financed by those whom I called above — and I still think, accurately — the “paymasters” of the entire insider protection and expansion racket that runs the country. Why won’t Eric Holder jail a banker? If he does, where’s his next job going to come from? Insiders protecting insiders, so the money keeps flowing … to them.
As I said once in conversation with David Dayen on a Virtually Speaking broadcast, the only real story in the country is the “flow of funds” story — the flow of all available money upward, from the pockets of the many to the pockets of the few. Every problem we have stems from that.
Here you see perfectly how that flow is greased at the rubber-meets-road level — insider PR shops (270 Strategies) doing insider (corporate, pro-TPP) bidding by feeding insider-created framing (“Progressive Coalition for American Jobs”) to well-financed insider media like Politico.
Next stop for this messaging? All of the Sunday “news” shows, of course. But Morning Joe, nestled inside pro-Democratic MSNBC, would be my cable target. As near as I can tell, none of the evening MSNBC anchors are covering TPP, much less criticizing it, so there won’t even be an in-network counter-message.
More on This “Progressive Coalition”
I don’t want this piece to go too long, so I’ll leave you with one more note on TPP. Just as I’ve attempted to deconstruct the media “messaging” side, Dave Johnson, one of our go-to people on TPP, has dissected the group “Progressive Coalition for American Jobs.” I can do no better than to send you there. (Hint: It’s neither progressive, nor a coalition, nor about jobs, nor American. It’s a real “Four Pinocchio” operation.)
270 Strategies, a Bottom Line
We’ve had our eye on “270 Strategies” since they tried, and failed, to take out progressive House member Mike Honda. (Can you imagine Obama campaign alums targeting Honda? Talk about tagging yourself out of the gate as exactly what you are. It would be like targeting Alan Grayson or Keith Ellison — none are iffy progressives vulnerable from the left.)
Now they’re at it again, 270 Strategies, by working to pass TPP, one of Obama’s worst legacy wants and one of his most destructive initiatives. If he succeeds, we’ll have NAFTA–job loss on steroids, along with actually loss of sovereignty.
All so the people at 270 Strategies can cash an insider-financed paycheck. Not sure I like that trade.