Rachel Maddow warns us about the lastest astroturf group which we're sure to see more of as the debate over financial reform continues. As she notes, Rick Berman has been setting up web sites and corporate front groups that mirror legitimate watchdog sites to try to undermine them. The Consumer Rights League was set up in 2007 and it shares the same acronym with the Center for Responsible Lending, which was set up thirty years ago as an actual consumer rights group. The Consumer Rights League is now organizing protests against the real consumer rights group, the Center for Responsible Lending.
The Huffington Post has more on this here -- Center For Responsible Lending In Fight With Front Group:
The Center for Responsible Lending says the Consumer Rights League is just doing the bidding of the financial industry, which opposes reforms advocated by the center.
"This is an industry-funded front group, also known as Astroturf, that can't win on the merits of their arguments so they have to attack people personally," said Kathleen Day, spokeswoman for the Center for Responsible Lending. "They lack transparency. "That should make everyone wonder why. Whose water are they carrying?"
"We don't claim to be a grassroots organization. We claim to be a different voice for consumers," Flynn said.
But who's paying for the megaphone? Flynn refuses to say, though he admitted to Roll Call that the financial industry does contribute to the group.
According to tax forms, the league was founded in 2007 with Flynn, Jason Roe, Duane Dicharia, Michael McKay, and Theresa Kibbe as its directors. Roe and Mckay are both principals in the Federal Strategy Group lobbying firm, which has some clients in the financial industry and was paid $40,000 for start-up costs. Kibbe is married to Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, which provided office space to the league.
Flynn said the league is not connected to the Federal Strategy Group. He said James Terry has replaced Terry Kibbe as the group's chief public advocate, that McKay is no longer one of the directors and that he (Flynn) works from home.
A key part of the league's complaint is that the center's big donors benefited from the center's lobbying. It's the same argument made against the center on websites like www.activistcash.com, propagated by notorious industry PR man Rick Berman, for whom Flynn used to work.
Flynn provided the government with two news clippings purportedly showing how the center is a front for its donors. One, a BusinessWeek story from 2007, suggested that hedge fund Paulson & Co. gave $15 million to the Center for Responsible Lending hoping to benefit from bankruptcy reform legislation for which the center had been lobbying. Another is a December 2008 New York Times story about Herb and Marion Sandler, who helped found and fund the Center for Responsible Lending. Citing this article, Flynn wrote in his letter to the IRS that Herb Sandler "made billions of dollars as the owner of a bank that wrote what are now called subprime mortgages for the low-income beneficiaries of CRL's various advocacy efforts."
As Rachel and the HuffPo article points out, they shared office space with Dick Armey's FreedomWorks, they won't say who funds them but admitted to Roll Call that they are at least in part funded by the financial industry, the board of directors of the Consumers Rights League included FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe's wife Terry Kibbe, who is a Republican fundraiser and a banking lobbyist.
Rachel said to watch out for the right wing media to start promoting the protests from the Consumer Rights League and one last tidbit, the former President of the Consumer Rights League Mike Flynn now is the editor and chief of Andrew Breitbart's site BigGovernment.com, which is promoting the fake astroturf protests. And as Rachel noted, Mike Flynn used to be a lobbyist for Rick Berman. More on that from TPM.
But the pay-day lenders also have had help from some more controversial figures. Last week, we told you about the industry's attacks on the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), the consumer-rights group that has been perhaps the most vocal critic of the pay-day lending industry. And back in October, as the Huffington Post reported at the time, an industry front group, the Consumer Rights League, filed a complaint with Congress alleging that CRL had violated lobbying rules by not sufficiently disclosing its activities. The League's largely bogus complaint -- the group's president, Michael Flynn, admitted to HuffPo: "A lot of the things I complained about are technical violations" -- appears to have been another attempt by the industry to harass and weaken CRL.
The League hasn't said who's funding it -- it didn't respond immediately to our request for comment -- but tax forms show it was founded in 2007 by Flynn and two lobbyists for the Federal Strategy Group, a GOP lobby firm. And for a time -- though no longer, it appears -- it shared an address with FreedomWorks, the corporate-funded conservative lobby group run by former GOP Majority Leader Dick Armey, which has been a key backer of the Tea Party movement. Another of the League's founders, Teresa Kibbe, is the wife of FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe.
Flynn is now "editor-in chief" of Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com, which ran James O'Keefe's undercover ACORN videos. (ACORN "owe Mr. O'Keefe an apology and also a thank you for rooting out these employees," Flynn told Sean Hannity in the wake of the videos' release.) He's also a former top lobbyist for Berman & Company, the firm run by notorious corporate lobbyist Rick Berman, famous for creating industry-funded front groups that have downplayed the risks of smoking, drinking, obesity, and even drunk driving, without revealing their corporate clients. 60 Minutes once called Berman -- known to his friends and enemies alike as "Dr. Evil" -- "the booze and food industries' weapon of mass destruction."
In fact, Berman himself also appears to have direct ties to the industry's PR push. A page on the website ActivistCash.com, which is run by Berman's Center For Consumer Freedom, goes after CRL, making prominent mention of the background in the sub-prime mortgage industry of Herb Sandler, one of CRL's major funders. And as the good-government group CREW noted in a report last year, a website set up by Berman's Center for Economic and Entrepreneurial Literacy has promoted pay-day loans and criticized efforts to regulate the industry.
All of these ties have paid off for the industry, of course. To the frustration of consumer advocates, the Senate's proposal on financial reform won't give the new consumer agency the automatic authority to enforce rules against all pay-day lenders. And the House bill passed in December, though stronger, also was reportedly watered down.