How to Tell-a-Phone-y

Tips on how to tell when a caller who claims to represent a grassroots movement is really throwing you a corporate-contrived astroturf pitch:

You ask: "Who do you work for?"
The caller says: A group beginning with "Citizens for...," "Consumers Against...," or "Americans who..."

You ask: "Where are you located?"
The caller says: "I can't reveal that information."

You say: "I'm in the middle of dinner. Can I call you back?"
The caller says: "Sure" and gives you a toll-free number.

You call the toll-free number.
An operater says: "Legislative hotline!" and offers to route you to the appropriate staffer.

You ask for more information.
They send papers labeled "grassroots effort."

You ask: "How does this issue affect me?"
The caller says: "This will hurt all consumers in your state!"

You ask: "When I call my senator, what do I say?"
The caller says: "Say that this will hurt all consumers in your state!"

You ask: "What else can I do?"
The caller says: "Write your senator a letter saying that this will hurt all consumers in your state!"

Not every grassroots call is necessarily fake. Just demand details. And remember: The Princeton Dental Resource Center was once sponsored by M&M/Mars to convince the public that candy is good for your teeth. For more information on identifying phony campaigns, consult Mask of Deception: Corporate Front Groups in America, which is available for $15 through Essential Information (a Ralph Nader front group); call (202) 387-8030 or go to

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