Thursday, October 11, 2018

Astroturfing Sarasota

Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization (e.g., political, advertising, religious or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants. Wikipedia

A group is buying ads on Facebook to mimic the look and style of STOP! - a Sarasota civic group that has worked to put residents back into the city of Sarasota's planning process. A new political group, whose name includes the word “STOP!” in all-capital letters with an exclamation point, says it’s rallying against uncontrolled growth and the pervasive influence of developers on local officials. 
The group is called “STOP! Stealing Our Votes,” a political committee formed to campaign against a proposed county charter amendment that would create single-member districts for the Sarasota County Commission. Ahead of the November referendum, the group has paid for Facebook ads that claim big developers are backing the amendment. 
All of this is a source of concern for a different group: STOP!, the citizen activist group formed in 2016 to advocate for changes to the city’s development regulations. On Wednesday, STOP! issued a press release accusing STOP! Stealing Our Votes of intentionally misleading voters with its name and messaging.
The civic STOP! group has returned fire with its own "STOP! Stealing Our Name! blitz:

Who are the operatives behind the Astroturf? Not surprisingly, it's a familiar Sarasota claque that is opposed to lots of things, but NOT to developers.
Yourobserver: [Russ] Bobbitt, president and CEO of the Purmort & Martin Insurance Agency, claimed the political committee represented a broad coalition of opponents to the proposed charter amendment. He declined to name any other individuals connected to the group. The political committee has not yet filed a financial report with the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections.
We can update: The committee has now filed a financial report -- the "broad coalition" turns out to be the usual mokes:

The Argus Foundation often speaks of its leadership, vision, and high-minded dedication to the betterment of Sarasota. More astroturfing?

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