There's more on the recent "astro turf" lobbying scandal in the Washington Post today. Turns out it was the pro-coal "American Coalitions for Clean Coal Electricity" who hired Bonner and Associates to generate grassroots / grasstops support for changes to the climate change legislation. The ACCCE did not, obviously hire the firm to do fake letters, but to me this just demonstrates what happens when organizations focus almost exclusively on the NUMBER of letters going to the hill on an issue as opposed to the QUALITY. In this case, at least 12 of the 47 or so letters generated by Bonner were fake. That's a 25% fake-to-real ratio.
Nothing excuses the firm in question or the staff person who allegedly put together these fake letters. But would this have happened if someone had said "hey, we don't care about the number of communications. We just want to be sure they come from people who really feel strongly about this issue?" The truth is that just one high quality, thoughtful communication will have more of an impact on a legislator than 10 or 20 or 100 luke warm communications -- no matter whose name is on the letterhead.
The practice at Bonner and Associates (according to some bloggers) appears to be the opposite. Clearly, the premium is on getting as many letters out as possible without regard for their accuracy or adhering to the basic principles of enhancing true citizen communication with Congress.
The silver lining here is that this demonstrates to me that generating grassroots / grasstops support for an issue CAN be a useful tactic for advocay success if done right. And by done right, I mean focusing on helping truly engaged citizens connect in a meaningful way with legislators. I do not mean making stuff up.