During the first round of the FCC’s net neutrality comment period, the agency was absolutely swamped by public input (including ours), the vast majority of it supporting net neutrality. After the agency released a database of the comments, analysis of the comments showed that while around half were generated via “outrage-o-matic” forms from various consumer advocacy groups, once you got into the other half of the comments — almost all were in support of net neutrality. After the volume of pro-neutrality comments received ample media coverage, anti-neutrality organizations — like the Phil Kerpen’s Koch-Funded “American Commitment” — dramatically ramped up their automated form comment efforts to try and balance the comment scales.
As we noted at the time, Kerpen and American Commitment’s efforts were jam packed with some absurd, alarmist dreck. Similarly, claims that net neutrality opponents then “won” the comment period because they purchased some wingnut e-mail lists to pad the petition were misleading as well. Perusing the FCC comments and analysis of the data, there’s really no way to conclude anything other than the fact the FCC’s efforts have broad, bipartisan public support. Like countless similar groups, American Commitment obscures its funding sources, making its ties to the broadband industry impossible to prove.
That brings us to this week, when American Commitment proudly crowed it had managed to urge 540,538 citizens to send 1,621,614 letters to Congress opposing net neutrality and basically asking for the FCC to be defunded. Except some new analysis of the latest wave of comments suggests there was some serious skulduggery afoot. As in, some of the constituent names used to sign these letters — either don’t exist or never sent letters opposing net neutrality:
“The flood of traffic seemed to raise some lawmakers’ eyebrows, including Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California, whose office soon determined some of the messages had come from constituents who didn’t recall sending them. Her aides pointed to a memo sent to members’ staff last week by Lockheed Martin, which manages the technology behind some lawmakers’ “contact me” Web pages. Lockheed initially said it had “some concerns regarding the messages,” including the fact that “a vast majority of the emails do not appear to have a valid in-district address.” In some cases, Lockheed also questioned the “legitimacy of the email address contact associated with the incoming message[s].”
When asked about this, Kerpen suggested that the actions are that of unspecified third party rogue agents, and that his organization knew nothing about they ploy:
“Asked about the matter, Kerpen told POLITICO that American Commitment hadn’t impersonated members’ constituents. But he said that other groups had mounted similar campaigns, and borrowed the pre-written text available on his website. “We’re aware that other groups used identical language in their campaigns and we cannot speak to those efforts,” Kerpen said. “We verified our data through postal address verification and follow up phone calls. We stand by our campaign and Congress should work to stop President [Barack] Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet at the request of these constituents.”
Whoever is to blame (and I’d imagine this entire affair is quickly forgotten in the annals of muddy neutrality lore), it certainly speaks to the quality of your argument when you need to either buy — or just outright fabricate — your support.