Bart Naylor of Public Citizen: Testimony on Comment Abuse by Astroturf Fake Front Groups

Bart Naylor testified this morning in a hearing on the avuse of the notice and comment process by dark money-tuned fake front groups masquerading as public interest organizations. The full testimony is at the link below. The title of the hearing is “Fake It Till They Make It: How Bad Actors Use Astroturfing to Manipulate Regulators, Disenfranchise Consumers and Subvert the Rulemaking Process.”

An excerpt from the testimony:

Corporate financial abusers do not limit their deceptions to faux comments from average citizens. Public Citizen has investigated other areas of deception. Another common ploy with which this committee is undoubtedly familiar are industry-funded studies submitted under the banner of a respected university.

In 2019, we published a lengthy examination of a Koch funded center operating under the banner of George Washington University, called the Regulatory Studies Center.

It purports to be “objective” and “unbiased” and says that the submissions of its writers represent the writers’ views, alone. Yet, about 96 percent of its public comments on discrete proposals recommend less regulation than the proposal or status quo. The Charles Koch foundation has provided the Center more than $1 million in funding. Three-fourths of its comments to public agencies were authored by a person with ties to other Koch organizations.

We call on this committee and Congress to question why law enforcers have failed to penalize those who “knowingly and willfully … make fraudulent representations” to the government. Without penalties, bankers seeking to hurdle CRA requirements to seal a lucrative bank merger will continue to fabricate comments. Corporate captains seeking to escape shareholder accountability will continue to generate fake comments that SEC commissioners will cite to dismantle shareholder rights. Investors will fall prey to Wall Street predators who cause small business managers to spout self-defeating fictions.

We ask this committee to commission a study on the utility of public listing of those who file fake comments, especially those who organize such efforts. This would inform rule-makers as well as media and civic organizations to readily identify such efforts. The public listing should also serve as a deterrent. We support the policy advanced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren that requires those who communicate with the government to disclose any financial backing.

We support these sensible, proactive responses. [footnotes omitted]

Bart Naylor testimpny astroturf-20200206

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