Whose Line Is It, Anyway?

It's an "open secret of lobbying," writes Jeffrey Birnbaum. "Public relations firms regularly solicit authors of opinion-page articles, draft the pieces for them and place the articles in publications where they will have the most impact -- all for a fee." Recently, an op-ed criticizing a bill that would reduce credit card fees appeared in Southern newspapers, attributed to Charles Steele Jr., the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The column -- which neither Steele nor his office authorized -- complains that the bill "would boost the profits of Wal-Mart," an SCLC sponsor. Steele's attorney blamed "the K Street public relations shop LMG" for the mix-up. LMG admitted that it had "reached out through its contractors" to send "advocacy materials" to the SCLC and "urged the group to go public with opposition to the bill." Among LMG's clients is the Electronic Payments Coalition, a group of credit card and financial companies that opposes the legislation. The SCLC investigated and concluded that "the wrong draft of the op-ed" had been sent to papers. "The correct draft should not have referenced Wal-Mart or Home Depot," another SCLC sponsor.