Cash-Roots, Manufactured Anger, and Hot Air over Health Care

Protesters or Faux-Testers?

Protesters or faux-testersThis summer's health care town hall meetings have been turned into high-profile media opportunities for people shouting talking points crafted by anti-health reform front groups. These confrontations make "good news" but don't make for good policy. I don't doubt the sincerity of the anger of some of these seriously misinformed protesters, so I wouldn't label the lot "faux-testers," but these flames have been stoked by lie upon lie.

Manufactured Anger

That the anger is real doesn't make it any less manufactured. It's literally a product, the sum of a public relations campaign orchestrated by some of the wealthiest interests in the country. The goal is to scare ordinary Americans, who've been shaken up by the economic crash of 2008, into opposing health care reforms intended to help protect them from insurance industry practices that hurt real people every day. As Rachel Maddow noted, the industry's profits have literally quadrupled while countless Americans have been denied coverage or squeezed with higher premiums for policies riddled with loopholes. Here is a great clip of her interviewing CMD's own Wendell Potter on this very subject.

FreedomWorks' Corporate Roots

This recent controversy over health reform is partly the product of a well-financed disinformation campaign by groups like "FreedomWorks, Inc." That's the name of a registered non-profit that is greatly funded by undisclosed for-profit corporations. Before this group was re-branded with a fancy new name, leaked documents showed that 85 percent of its funding came from huge donations from big companies, like Philip Morris, and right-wing foundations, like those funded by the mega-rich Scaifes. This was under its former name, "Citizens for a Sound Economy" (CSE), which was created by billionaire ideologue David Koch. Because its brand new name is more Orwellian than I can stand, I'm just going to call it "F-Works."

Grassroots, Astroturf, and the Cash-Roots

SourceWatch editors have noted that some past campaigns of F-Works have been dubbed "astroturf" to denote their fakery, such as Given the corporate dollars likely bankrolling the current misinformation campaign, an additional way to describe this came to my mind: cash-roots.


It Pays Big to Run Cash-Roots Campaigns

Richard "Dick" Armey received $320,000 a year for working about 32 hours a weekIt's also a little difficult to think of this effort as one initiated by the little guy when the group's leaders are paid corporate executive-level salaries, which is understandable because it's really a corporate group. How well does F-Works pay? Richard "Dick" Armey, former U.S. House Majority Leader (R-TX), received $320,000 a year for working about 32 hours a week as the Chairman of F-Works' board, according to F-Works' most recent IRS filing. He received an additional $80,000 per year from its lobbying arm. And he didn't do any reported lobbying for them that year! That's four hundred grand. Part-time!

His other part-time job was as a hired gun for the huge American corporate law firm DLA Piper, which grossed $1.1 billion in receipts that year, with profit per partner of over $1 million. We don't know how much they paid Armey on top of his F-Works' take, but he did report lobbying for DLA Piper that year, including lobbying to get a designated foreign terrorist organization un-designated. Just last week, Armey announced he was leaving DLA Piper to spend more time on F-Works where, after all, he was earning big bucks on the side. Almost half a million dollars, part-time.

Fat Cats and Back-Scratching in DC

Businessman crossing his fingers behind his backF-Works, by the way, takes credit for leading the fight against the Clinton Administration's failed health care reform, which they called "Hillary Care" (just as now protest signs oppose "ObamaCare"). And who was leading the fight against health care reform from inside Congress? Armey. He was the Majority Leader with then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) who helped write the "Contract with America." These very lucrative revolving door relationships are just the kind of coziness between some politicians and front groups I saw time and time again in Washington, and that I plan to help expose in my new role as Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy. I'm especially happy to be here as we fight spin and deception by the heath insurance industry and its allies.

So, Here's the Real Question

Do you want a Wall Street fat cat, whose bottom-line is literally maximizing profit, between you and your doctor? That's one of the most important questions on the table in Bill Moyer's illuminating interview with Wendell, who is another reason I am so pleased to be leading CMD. We will be posting links to his major interviews on the home page of so please check out our site to find more of this courageous whistleblower's insights into corporate PR and this raging debate.

Gratitude for a Real Visionary

Drops of waterI am very grateful to John Stauber, CMD's visionary founder, for sharing with me the opportunity to lead this important organization. His foresight in bringing on Wendell has opened a powerful, new chapter in CMD's mission. And, I'm thrilled to announce that John has accepted my invitation to stay on as a key advisor to CMD and me.

And There's More Great Work to Come!

These are just a few of the many reasons I seized the opportunity to become CMD's new Executive Director. Our team is providing important, unique resources and analysis in the current debates over policy changes affecting the health of people and our environment. We also have some bold, new initiatives up our sleeves that we'll be announcing soon. And, I'm excited to add my knowledge and style to the mix and have the kind of intellectual freedom, to dig deep and speak the truth on a wide range of issues, that has been CMD's hallmark since John founded the organization back in 1993. Given the high pitch of spin on critically important issues, we have a lot of work to do together, and I'm looking forward to fighting by your side!

Lisa Graves is Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy based in Madison, Wisconsin.

Lisa Graves

Lisa Graves is President of the Board of the Center for Media and Democracy and President of True North Research. She is a well-known researcher, writer, and public speaker. Her research and analysis have been cited by every major paper in the country and featured in critically acclaimed books and documentaries, including Ava Du Vernay’s award-winning film, “The 13th,” Bill Moyers’s “United States of ALEC,” and Showtime’s “Years of Living Dangerously.”



Your comments on fake protesters are way off base. I am one of those Americans (with no group affiliation) frustrated by a "reform" package that does little to reduce costs and turns health care over to one of the most inefficient organizations (fed gov't). Check out their track records on social security - underfunded and inefficient, medicare - same, post office -broke and inefficient, border control - are you kidding? I'm for reform, just more sensible policies like: 1. real tort reform to reduce the huge cost of defensive medicine 2. Cut the cord and give individual control of their own insurance - don't link it to employment. Tax changes could easily do this. 3. Allow cross state competition. 4. encourage more "first $" competition on payments for services - this will change the way health care is purchased and put more accountability in the hands of consumerts. 5. Yes we need a way to pay for the millions of uninsured - but we can do that through expanding current programs and providing coverage for the poor. Do this and health care improves and instead of having a govenment run disaster, we have some real reform and actual cost savings. signed - an American with a much better solution!

You don't know what it means to be underfunded or ineffiecient, because your 'proposal' shows no identifiable way of overcoming either problem. Also, look at your fifth point... come on - do you not see a contradiction here? First you say your against turning it over to that wretched, incompetent government, yet you want to expand current programs? A program which is underfunded is not a euphemism for being inefficient - it simply means the program is underfunded. The US government has A LOT to account for - nevermind healthcare - like for instance, a war that is still going on in case you've forgotten. You'll have to enlighten me on how the government is 'one of the most inefficient organizations'. I don't see how or why the private sector is run any better (in fact big businesses use this 'inefficient organization' to lobby for policies they want - makes you think where some problems can occur). If you've paid any attention to what has happened in the past two years, today included with the insurance industries, you can hardly blame the goverment (again, deregulation has been lobbied for by private power for the last 30 years) - in fact its the government that has to clean up every mess the private sector gets itself into (see Goldman Sachs). I think the military and their industrial complex is far more superior than anything the private sector is capable of - the fact that you are reading this is such evidence, as we owe the creation of the internet to 'one of the most inefficient organizations'. I receive my mail everyday except for Sunday - I have no qualms about that - do you not receive it six days a week? If you do, what is so inefficient about that? How would it be even more efficient if, say, it was run by FedEx? Whether its the post office, medicare (surveys indicate those in the program like it, by the way, I doubt you are even eligible), the police department, fire department, sanitation, park districts... I don't see evidence of 'one of the most inefficient organization', rather, when I think about your claim, I see more evidence of someone who doesn't know what they're talking about, but think they do.

1. Though malpractice coverage and defensive medicine is an issue in rising healthcare costs, it is not a significant one. According to Arnold Relman in his excellent book "A Second Opinion" malpractice represents about 7 billion in costs. Defensive medicine has been estimated at 80 billion tops. Out of the 2 trillion in U.S. healthcare costs, the largest in the world, but still leaving the U.S. 37th in the world, this issue can only be seen as a pimple on the behind. 2. I don't think healthcare should be linked to employment either, that's why I'm for reform. But the "individual" will never be able to be in charge of their own insurance. The insurance companies are in charge of insurance, and they don't make money insuring people who need healthcare. The insurance co's business model is to take in as much in premiums as possible and to deny as much healthcare as they can. Their wonderful term for healthcare is "medical loss". 3, 4. Doctors should not be "competing". Good healthcare is integrative, such as uniform, doctor accessible records. Healthcare is not a traditional "marketplace" Sick people are not able to go around kicking tires. All so-called "consumer driven" healthcare ideas come out of business schools, not from MD's. Medicine is complex and needs professional practitioners making informed decisions. Of course paitents should be as informed as possible, but no way are you going to make all medical knowledge available to the public on Burma-Shave signs. The last thing we need is more damn TV commercials peddling prescription drugs. 5. As another commenter pointed out, you've completely contradicted yourself on this one. Are you for universal coverage then? Great! Except, your other 4 points lead in the opposite direction.

I'd like to respond to 'Better Solution's' comments and suggestions: "Check out their track records on social security - underfunded and inefficient, medicare - same, post office -broke and inefficient, border control - are you kidding?" Social Security ... would not be underfunded if administrations and Congress had raised the cap on income subject to the tax, or slightly increased the tax itself, which Reagan did. The first is preferable, and it should be noted that Reagan had the political capital to get away with raising the tax. The truth is: a. Social Security is flagging because of the increase in baby boomers reaching retirement age, the lower number of workers paying in due to reduced birth rates, and currently the high rate of unemployment. b. There's also a problem in that war spending (particularly) has meant a drain on the treasury and the need to sell more Treasury bonds, which saps the SS fund. c. at something like 2% admin costs, Social Security can hardly be called inefficient. The same is true of Medicare. a. Again admin costs are tiny compared to private insurance admin loading. b. Medicare covers only the elderly, that part of the population with the highest need for major medical treatment and long-term care. c. If Medicare were expanded to cover the whole population, the high costs for the elderly would be offset by the lower incidence of use among the young and healthy. The Post Office ... delivers your mail, wherever it has to go. a. That includes the lone cabin in remote mountain canyons for the same price as a letter destined for across town. b. Some 40 years back, the private couriers came into the market. The free market. What they could do, that the PO by law cannot, is to refuse to deliver in out-of-the-way places or else charge an arm and a leg for the privilege. c. In short, the private couriers took the cream routes and left the PO with everything else. We subsidize PO service so that everyone can still mail a letter, but we subsidize it twice over when we pay high rates for that sexy overnight courier service. Immigration and border control, well, there's a can of worms! a. The best way to keep hordes of people from coming into the country would be to help them want to stay where they are. As long as there is gross income inequity, trade-driven job loss, war, famine and mayhem ... people will think they might have it better in the US. b. The Border Fence is a great boondoggle (and threat to wildlife habitat). Flat out pandering to the shrill anti-immigrant voices. c. There are better solutions to the border problem. As an emigrant, I've experienced a different approach, which works a lot better AND funds the host-country general revenues and social security and health programs. In short, the argument that government programs are inefficient and ineffective is hollow. It's based on urban myth, propounded by opponents of rational change. However, I WOULD agree that the legislation currently before us on health care reform doesn't do the job voters had hoped for last November. Failing a single-payer plan, there should be no requirement for people to buy insurance, and there should be no subsidy of such a mandate to add more money to the already bloated private insurance profits. But, I'd be concerned about admin costs for tax rebates and other means suggested for taking the money out of public coffers and redirecting it, via low-income customers, into the insurance companies. Why is it exactly that what works in other industrialized countries (single-payer basic health care for all, with optional private top-up for those who like 'the frills') would be a bad idea for the US?

American with a much better solution- Wait a minute, as one who does not want bigger government I could careless how great they make this healthcare takeover sound - i am not buying what they are selling. Medicare is going broke, social security is also going broke, yet the government wants to start providing insurance for "everybody"? Basically what this is going to look like is an expansion of Medicare - which is a bankrupt program. How are they going to expand coverage for millions of people for less money, and keep costs from rising without rationing care? This is not possible, and coming from the Obama administration it is not to be believed. Not only that, but why should we be required to pay for this? Furthermore, it is the government that caused the problems with health care in the first place. It is government that has placed obstacles on insurance companies being able to provide insurance across state lines ( there are some states that have one provider that writes like 90% of the policies = no competition, and therefore, increased costs). This is a result of government meddling - from the HMOs, to the so-called "managed care." once government gets involved in the private sector you get fannie mae and freddie mac. No, i am not interested in bigger government, and I do not support any take over of healthcare. period. And like you, I am not part of any "astroturf" campaign either - despite all efforts to spin it otherwise. what we need is a separation of business and state, just as we have a separation of church and state. When government gets into business it privatizes profits (friends, cronies, and the politicians themselves), yet socializes the risks (you and me pay!).

This work being done by CMD and by broadcast people like Rachel Maddow is so important. The uniformed are being led by people who do not care what the facts are, just who is paying for their propaganda services. They are perfectly happy to stir up this volatile mix of emotions in frightened people to distract them from the truth that it has been insurance companies who have for many years been running "death panels" - actuarial review panels and issuing policies to decide what treatment people should get on the basis of what is most cost effective -- for the insurance company. Why this does not outrage people given that the boards and decision-makers of insurance companies were not elected by the people that they serve and are not accountable to them. So arguably the insurance company's "death panels" are far more troubling than any proposal currently on the table. The bottom line is this: IF you WANT to have a session with your doctor for end-of-life counseling you will be reimbursed for the visit. No panel. Just you and your doctor and your family. And you get reimbursed for it. What is the problem with that? It is distressing that such an obvious misrepresentation has gained so much credibility.

Dear Ms. Piety-- I really appreciated your thoughtful response to my blog posting. I share your outrage that corporate practices in denying people coverage without any real public or democratic accountability is far more troubling than what had been a well-intentioned bipartisan provision, initiated by Senator Isakson (R-GA), to ensure that family consultations with doctors about the most difficult decisions they will ever face would be covered by the reform plan. It's too bad it was subject to such misleading demagoguery by severely uninformed elected officials like Senator Grassley (R-IA) and the former Governor of Facebook, I mean Alaska. Alas, we all have a lot of work to do to have meaningful dialogues with one another that pierce through this fog of confusion and misinformation. Lisa

Point of information here. We here in Washington know that Dick Armey resigned from DLA Piper a couple of days ago because he said he did not want the health care reform protests to reflect on the firm. Since this is an online newsletter with no set deadline, how come you missed that? At any rate, I marvel at Armey's statement. Isn't the purpose of a government relations practice to be effective? Well, maybe Dick Armey's grassroots protesters were a little too effective for the firm's moral sensibilities.

Dear Anonymous-- Re the question "how come you missed that" Armey resigned from DLA Piper, my original blog post plainly referenced that fact expressly: "Just last week, Armey announced he was leaving DLA Piper to spend more time on F-Works where, after all, he was earning big bucks on the side. Almost half a million dollars, part-time." It's regrettable you missed it, but my next blog will be shorter! I do appreciate your writing in.... Lisa

Mr. Armey can be 2009's poster child for the under taxed privileged class's revolving door between the public and private sectors. Middle Class Americans are always on the outside looking in. Voting every two years makes the Middle Class feel as if they somehow have a say in what goes on at the top of the public sector's hierarchical pyramid...but it just isn't so. The only way to keep the privileged class under some kind of control is to raise their taxes. Unfortunately, it is the public sector privileged class that must, in effect, do that to themselves. Once the top marginal rate was lowered to 70% from 91% in 1964, Middle Class control began slipping away. Then, between 1981 and 1986, the top rate was cut from 70% to 50% to 28%. It now sits at 35%...and the U.S. Public Debt has increased from $1 Trillion in 1981 to at least $15 Trillion today. Not only does America now have runaway also has a runaway privileged class. Will the Obama administration yank back on the bit by raising the top marginal rate? Even though America can't sustain the current deficits...and Obama/Pelosi/Rangel/Reid know what must be done...the question remains, "Will they do it...or not?"