This is grass-roots?

| Friday, May 9, 2008

For an organization that claims "We are grassroots to the core," Grassfire.org acts as if it is hiding a lot of AstroTurf.

The politically conservative nonprofit is happy to talk about its worthy online petition campaigns, such as the recent one claiming more than 100,000 signatures to oppose an Al Gore-inspired carbon-tax scheme that supposedly would cost taxpayers $1.2 trillion. But Grassfire.org is very tight-lipped about talking about itself.

Odd indeed for a truly grassroots movement.

Of course, Grassfire.org is free to be as forthcoming or as deceptive about its roots as it wants. However, when it claims that its leadership team "holds a strong and unwavering commitment to conservative, pro-family and pro-faith values ... (that) guide our decision-making process," it might want to consider practicing what it preaches.

The telephone interview with Grassfire.org President Steve Elliott this week did not go well. It was going to be your basic who, what, when, where, why and how type of "phoner." But after responding to a few basic questions about Grassfire.org (since I never heard of it until its news release hit my desk), Mr. Elliott said that he would speak with me only about his petition drive and that any background questions should be handled by spokesman Ron De Jong.

Elliott then hung up.

Make that "who, what ... and huh?"

The Maxwell, Iowa, address for donations to the grassroots organization is clearly displayed on its Web site. But its 2006 IRS 990 form states its address is Bethesda, Md., near Washington, D.C.

Grassfire.org tells visitors to its Web site that it has "prepared this special page to provide friends like you with answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we receive."

Presumably, some of the questions not asked frequently include the size of the Grassfire.org budget and staff, the availability of the most recent 990 filing and the group's association with a (depending on your politics) famous or infamous public relations firm.

A principal of a slick Washington-area PR firm, Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, was involved in producing the Willie Horton TV spot in 1988 that helped seal the fate of Democrat presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. The following is from SourceWatch.org , which monitors PR professionals engaged in politics and public policy issues:

Those nice folks over at (Craig) Shirley & (Diana) Banister Public Affairs have let us know of a new ad from an organization called Grassfire.org, touted as a "conservative online political activist group" aimed to counter the power of the "radical Left" and Moveon.org.

Hiring a slick PR firm doesn't sound very grassroots-ish.

Mr. De Jong said it was a short-term relationship, maybe a few months in 2006.

Diana Banister said there had been no connection with Grassfire.org in the last five years.

When asked a few times about the organization's finances, Mr. De Jong first said he didn't know the size of the organization that he speaks for. He also said he "could ask around" about that 990 form. When I offered to ask the bookkeeper for him, De Jong said, "She will call, dude. Relax. I'll take care of it for you. I am a man of my word."

As of Thursday noon, no one had called this dude.

The petition drives of Grassfire.org no doubt help hold government accountable. And that is commendable. If only Grassfire.org would just act more accountable.

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