Chamber Uses Virtual Astroturf, Food and Female Sexuality to Fight Health Care Reform

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring online pop-up ads to try and generate the appearance of "grassroots" opposition to health care reform. The ads tell readers that if they complete a survey and give their names and personal information, they will get a $150 American Express Gift Card for use at Hooters Restaurants, the chain whose name is a slang term for part of the female anatomy and which is known for its skimpily-dressed, female servers. One of the incentivized ads urges readers to sign up for "free emails" from the Chamber that explain "how to protect your family's future and bring common-sense solutions to health health care debate." The Chamber contracts with a public relations firm which in turn subcontracts with an online marketing firm that coordinates the tasks of generating the ads and signing people up for the Chamber's campaign. Such "virtual astroturfing" appears to be a growing new tactic of lobbying groups trying to generate the appearance of public support or opposition for an issue.