Last month, Sarah wrote about the GOP recently pushing a "youth are leaving Obama" narrative. One of the major sources for these conservative columnists is a new 'youth' organization called Generation Opportunity.
Since its public announcement on June 1, 2011, Generation Opportunity has become one of the largest and fastest growing organizations targeting young Americans through social media, issue education, and grassroots mobilization. Generation Opportunity's facebook page "Being American" has rapidly grown to over 650,000 fans.Most of us who are actually in the youth movement had never heard anything about this "largest and fastest growing" youth organization until their press release blitz, and many of us were puzzled by how different their "research" results were from existing research. Out of curiosity, I decided to dig deeper into this organization.
Here is how Generation Opportunity describes itself:
Generation Opportunity is a non-profit, non-partisan 501 c4 organization that seeks to engage everyone from young adults, early career professionals, college students, young mothers and fathers, construction workers, current service men and women, veterans, entrepreneurs and all Americans who find themselves dissatisfied with the status quo and willing to create a better tomorrow.Generation Opportunity currently has a website (just an email sign-up landing page), a Facebook group (for "Being American," not Generation Opportunity), and a series of press releases.
Generation Opportunity operates on a strategy that combines advanced social media tactics with proven field tactics to reach Americans 18-29. The organization announced its first communications platform "Being American," a Facebook page that has already amassed a fan base of more than 650,000.
These releases fit suspiciously well within the conservative narrative. Millennials are apparently big on tax cuts, hate government spending, are American exceptionalists, believe the national debt is the most severe national security concern, and support expanding domestic coal and oil.
Millennials, also to a greater degree than members of older generations, have confidence in the federal government and are more likely to favor a clear, rather than ancillary role for it in American life. A decisive majority (64%) of Millennials disagrees with the statement, 'When the federal government runs something it is usually inefficient and wasteful,' while 58 percent of older generations agree with that harsh appraisal. Millennials are also substantially less likely to believe that the federal government should run only those things that can't be run at the local level (63% vs. 71%).Pew also found that:
These more favorable Millennial Generation attitudes toward the federal government are not simply a matter of 'normal' youthful liberalism. Millennials today are far less likely than Gen-Xers were in the late 1980s to believe that the federal government is usually wasteful and inefficient (32% for Millennials, 47% for young Gen-Xers) and that it should do only what can't be done at the local level (63% vs. 76%) (Pew Research Center 2007a).
- 73% of Millennials believe the government should take care of people who can't take care of themselves.
- 59% of Millennials believe the government should help more needy people even if it involves debt increases.
- 73% of Millennials support federally guaranteed health insurance for all Americans even if it requires tax increases.
- 69% of Millennials favor a bigger government that provides more services.
While the GOP has made gains with young white males (though just how much is in question do to an oversampling of the south in the cited report) since the period those surveys were done, overall the ethnically diverse Millennials have not drastically changed, with the majority of disappointment in Washington coming from the left:
But the political enthusiasms of Millennials have since cooled -for Obama and his message of change, for the Democratic Party and, quite possibly, for politics itself. About half of Millennials say the president has failed to change the way Washington works, which had been the central promise of his candidacy. Of those who say this, three-in-ten blame Obama himself, while more than half blame his political opponents and special interests.
To be sure, Millennials remain the most likely of any generation to self-identify as liberals; they are less supportive than their elders of an assertive national security policy and more supportive of a progressive domestic social agenda. They are still more likely than any other age group to identify as Democrats.
Generation Opportunity bases their legitimacy on the number of followers on their Facebook page, "Being American." At the time of writing, the page has just under 940,000 fans, which would be very impressive for an organization that was publicly announced less than 3 months ago. According to their announcement press release, their fan page already had over 600,000 fans before they even publicly announced their existence. That is a little bit too impressive. Rock the Vote has been around for 20 years and only has 68,000 fans. The RNC only has 236,000 and the DNC 266,000. They even have more fans than John McCain. Then again, Generation Opportunity doesn't have any fans, "Being American" does. Apparently, "Being American" is a Generation Opportunity project. Here is the timeline:
- In November of 2010, someone associated with what is now Generation Opportunity created a non-profit page called "Being American" in order to mislead people into becoming fans.
- On May 28, 2011, the page publishes a post about a new organization called Generation Opportunity asking people to sign up for the email list on the website. The profile picture is changed to add the Generation Opportunity logo at the bottom, though the thumbnail remained unchanged.
- On May 31, 2011, the page again solicits list sign-ups for a new organization, not mentioning to their fans that they themselves are the new organization.
Anyone who has liked "Being American" on Facebook because they like being American is unwillingly being counted as a supporter of this organization, and Generation Opportunity is using these people as 'evidence' that they are legitimate and "one of the largest and fastest growing organizations targeting young Americans." This is astroturfing 2.0.
Their Facebook photos consist of a couple of stock images, including the original page's initial profile picture of a soldier hugging a little girl uploaded on November 15, 2010. It was not until someone added the Generation Opportunity logo to the previous profile picture of a stylized eagle and a flag on May 28, 2011 that there was any indication that people were now fans of Generation Opportunity. One person commented on said photo saying "I didn't know being American was a project." In fact, the page's thumbnail looks exactly the same as it did before the Generation Opportunity branding was added, so people who do not click through the page still think it is for being American.
Instead of asking open-ended questions for feedback from the community, the majority of posts ask fans to like a conservative position or a loaded question. Here are some examples:
This article argues that raising taxes in order to reduce the federal deficit will especially affect areas where unemployment is already above average and growth is sluggish, ultimately raising unemployment even higher. LIKE this post if you think that reducing taxes and cutting federal spending is ultimately the best way to get more Americans working again!Reading through the posts and comments since the page was created in November 2010, you can see evidence of people who began to realize they were misled. Here are some fan comments:
Warren Buffet said that the rich need to bear a higher burden for the taxation of America. However, according to actual IRS data, the richest 1% of Americans already pay more than 95% of all the rest of America. The top 3% already pay more than the bottom 97% of Americans. LIKE this if you think that raising taxes on the wealthy is not the primary solution to fixing America's debt problem.
Thousands of Atlanta residents showed up for a job fair and waited in line for hours in the heat to get inside. Some camped out overnight desperate to find a job. LIKE this to show your support for your fellow Americans who are struggling to make ends meet and think the government needs get out of the way to let American businesses create opportunities for American citizens looking for work.
According to the Dep't of Agriculture's Secretary Vilsack, food stamps are the "most direct stimulus you can get" because buying food at grocery stores means people are stocking, processing, and shipping food items. LIKE this post if you think real stimulus comes from the American people and the feds need to roll back regulations and government spending so we can create jobs and lessen dependence on federal programs!
"I don't think this site is about being American. It's more about being Republican."And there are a lot more where that came from.
"Can you change the name of this group to "Being Republican"? We don't even celebrate America in the posts, we celebrate how much we love Republican talking points."
"To whoever controls this page: You need to use more politically neutral language."
"Since when did this become a bashing page on Obama???"
"i liked this group because i thought "being american" was something we could all agree regardless of political beliefs. this is a place for shared patriotism not empty political rhetoric"
"As a general rule, let's not put something from the Heritage Foundation on what is supposed to be a non-partisan page."
"Hating "ObamaCare" AKA the "law of the land" is not what "Being American" is about. This page is partisan, and this page blows."
"If I wanted to here sob stories from the rich i'd watch fox. Thought this group was gonna be fun, not tea party political."
"One more thing, I don't know who runs this joint. But please try posting topics from a neutral standpoint and let it be fleshed out amongst your viewers. Asking biased questions is no way to run a page. I agree with this particular post; but you're asking people to hate you. Then again, what do I know..."
"Who in the hell writes these Being American status updates..the Koch brothers?!"
"Wow I didnt realize being American was so hatefull and angry. This page is not what I thought it was so I will be disliking it."
"Didn't realize that "being American" would have so much political bias."
"Yea, Im officially unliking this page and spreading the word, I thought it was about being American and the UNBIASED views of our nation. You cant fool this U.S. Soldier. Goodbye and Hooah!"
"Is Being American just another site that says liberals are unpatriotic?"
"A page called "Being American" should be about all Americans and about the greatness of our country as a whole and not simply a mouthpiece for right-wing ideologues. If this page isn`t going to honor the experience and wisdom of all types of Americans, then the name should be changed to "Being Conservative" or Being Republican."
"So what's the point of this post? I love being American, but this page is nothing but political bashing."
"For real though, since when does "Being American" mean Obama-bashing? Asshole Facebook page, dislike"
"The moderators are once again showng their true colors as partisan hacks, I see...LIKE this post if you think the moderators need to quit carrying water for one political party and ideology and live up to the billing of this group."
"Wow, I'm leaving this page. It has nothing to do with being an American any more. It is clearly slanted in one direction."
"Wait, so for me to like being american, i have to be conservative and not completely check facts?"
"Like this post, and all others from this group, if you think Bias and push polls rule!"
"This page should be renamed, "Being Conservative," Because almost half of Americans' views are ignored completely."
In other news, I would like to announce "Pizza: A Future Majority project."
In a Daily Caller profile about Generation Opportunity entitled Rock the Right: Free-market activists eye youth vote, which inadvertently outs the organization, Generation Opportunity president Paul T. Conway refused to disclose who is financially backing the 501(c)(4).
Neither Generation Opportunity nor The Polling Company/WomenTrend has released crosstabs or demographic data for any of the polling cited in their press releases.
There are only three people publicly associated with Generation Opportunity: Paul T. Conway, the organization's president, Kellyanne Conway, the organization's pollster, and Matthew Faraci, Senior Vice-President for Communications.
Paul T. Conway
Paul T. Conway was formerly Chief of Staff to George W. Bush's Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, who is now a Distinguished Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Prior to this position he was Chief of Staff to George W. Bush's Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James and Chief of Staff of the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding under Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.
He was appointed to the Virginia Board of Health Professions by Gov. Bob McDonnell in 2010.
Paul T. Conway most recently served as Deputy Director of the Citizen Project at the Heritage Foundation. During his tenure with the Heritage Foundation, Conway coordinated a series of national public policy dialogues for faith and community leaders on a variety of issues, including education and health care reform and faith-based initiatives.He was listed as faculty for the openly conservative youth organization, the Leadership Institute. Although his faculty bio page has been deleted, its existence is revealed using a Google cache and an event page for a Civic Service Opportunity school that links to his now deleted page as one of the trainers. Here is the mission statement for the Leadership Institute:
The Leadership Institute's mission is to increase the number and effectiveness of conservative activists and leaders in the public policy process. To accomplish this mission, the Institute identifies, recruits, trains, and places conservatives in government, politics, and the media.He graduated from the University of Maine in 1986, putting him in his mid-40s.
Founded in 1979 by its president, Morton C. Blackwell, the Leadership Institute (LI) teaches conservatives the nuts and bolts of how to succeed in the public policy process.
The Institute strives to produce a new generation of public policy leaders unwavering in their commitment to free enterprise, limited government, strong national defense, and traditional values. Institute graduates are equipped with practical skills and professional training to implement sound principles through effective public policy.
Kellyanne Conway is the owner and principal of The Polling Company/WomenTrend, the firm responsible for the polls cited in Generation Opportunity releases. Her current/previous clients include The Heritage Foundation, Massachusetts Republican Party, Mercer County Republican Committee (NJ), National Republican Congressional Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, Republican National Committee, Republicans for Environmental Protection, American Life League, Americans for Tax Reform, Americans United for Life, Family Research Council, Family Security Matters, The Federalist Society, National Right to Life Committee, The Susan B. Anthony List, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, as well as a number of other corporate, government, and non-profit clients. According to her bio:
Kellyanne has worked for leaders such as the late Congressman Jack Kemp; former Vice President Dan Quayle; Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; Senator Fred Thompson and Congressman Mike Pence, the Chairman of the House Republican Conference and the third-highest ranking Republican in the House.She was a speaker for the aforementioned Leadership Institute in September of 2001 (video here). Her bio on the Leadership Institute page lists her as a board member of the Young Republican National Federation and the Young Elephants PAC. At one time she was listed as one of the "30 Most Powerful People in Generation X in America."
She is married to attorney George T. Conway III (I do not know if he and Paul T. Conway are related), the tobacco lawyer who was Paula Jones' secret advisor and alleged Drudge Report source.
Matthew Faraci, who uses the title Senior Vice-President for Communications, is Generation Opportunity's spokesman and press release contact.
Faraci was previously Vice-President of Communications and Marketing for Americans United for Life, spokesman for the U.S. Council on Competitiveness, and "spokesman for former Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao and also handled press operations for the Labor Department's Employment and Training Administration and Mine Safety and Health Administration." He was press secretary for former Indiana Congressman John N. Hostettler and a producer on PBS's The McLaughlin Group and Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg.
Here is a video of Faraci at the 2008 Republican National Convention on why he supports John McCain (hint: it involves cutting government spending):
He also has another video rant from the RNC Convention as well as a guest segment on an Americans for Tax Reform bloggers briefing about the anti-abortion role in fighting health care reform (Stupak).
He graduated from Calvin College in 1998, putting him in his mid-30s.
What they all have in common
For an organization that claims to be large and encompassing, it certainly seems to be composed of a small, tight-knit heterogeneous group of people.
- All of them are heavily involved in conservative organizations and causes.
- All of them worked in or for Elaine Chao's Labor Department.
- None of them are Millennials
- Paul T. Conway's employers, the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and the Heritage Foundation, were clients of Kellyanne Conway's The Polling Company/WomenTrend.
The most interesting thing is that all of them are on a crusade against government spending despite the fact that they spent a large portion of their careers as federal employees/contractors. I mean, Faraci even worked for PBS!
Generation Opportunity is a conservative astroturf front group being used to push a pro-conservative youth narrative using the false legitimacy of their misleading Facebook page. There are no Millennials involved. There is nobody involved in the organization that is not a conservative activist. None of their polling data has included crosstabs or demographics.
Paul T. Conway, Kellyanne Conway, and Matthew Faraci are not bad people. Kellyanne Conway in particular has been a long-time advocate of youth outreach on the right and has spoken openly about improving voter access. If conservatives want to start another youth outreach or advocacy group, more power to them. I welcome the addition of organizations that seek to engage young voters regardless of their place on the political spectrum. However, I do not support the idea of a falsely non-partisan organization disingenuously using a misleading Facebook page as legitimacy to push a conservative narrative to appear unbiased.