Their usual intent is to defeat measures which help Americans but might threaten the profits or power of the front groups' clients.
Consumerist, part of the Consumer Reports organization, just published
Everyone likes to hate on spammers, but they're basically the The
houseflies of the Internet. Far more insidious and damaging are
astroturfers and front groups—those corporate-funded, agenda-pushing people who don't disclose who they're really
working for while they participate in online culture and the media. The
Center for Media and Democracy has put together a list of tips to help you identify them from real grassroots movements, while Free Press has created a widget that reveals front groups for five large companies you frequently see on Consumerist.
biggest tip-off, of course, is that there's not a 100% clear disclosure
of the group's beginnings and location. The Center for Media and
Democracy says you should look for physical addresses, and
cross-reference them on their astroturfing wiki, SourceWatch.org.
(If the address is in D.C., alarms should be going off.) Real
grassroots will usually prominently list their chief personnel (but
cross-reference those, too) and source of funding.
Everyone likes to hate on spammers, but they're basically the
Note that Free Press helps defend us as well.
Special credit to McClatchy news, which exposes front groups working to defeat health care reform.
Finally, a disclaimer: Consumer Reports has a brilliant record for integrity and helping people out, and I joined their board to support that.