I have started receiving emails from a group called Generation Opportunity, which proclaims itself "one of the largest grassroots organizations connecting with Millennials through advanced social media outreach and traditional, boots-on-the-ground organizing."
A recent message begins with compelling statistics about youth unemployment from the July 2012 government figures.
Then, Generation Opportunity President Paul T. Conway - identified vaguely as a former chief of staff of the U.S. Department of Labor and former chief of staff of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management - is quoted as saying, "Instead of aggressively embracing policies that liberate businesses to create more jobs, the President and his appointees have pursued an agenda that suffocates economic opportunity under the weight of more spending, higher debt, more regulations, and higher taxes."
The header on the email I received urges people to call the White House and "tell President Obama to get out of the way of job creation."
In fact, Conway is a career Republican appointee who worked for the right-wing Heritage Foundation, was trained and also taught at the right-wing Leadership Institute, and was chief of staff for former Bush Labor Secretary and current Heritage staff member Elaine Chao. Notorious fraudster James O'Keefe also got "training and a little financial help from the Leadership Institute," its founder boasted on yet another astro-turf website, campusreform.org.
You can't learn about Conway or any of Generation Opportunity's other leaders on its website. The site is completely anonymous, except for the name of its communications director Matthew Faraci. It lists a northern Virginia phone number and a P.O. box mailing address in Arlington, Va. Faraci previously headed communications for Americans United for Life, and before that was a spokesman for the U.S. Council on Competitiveness and for former Labor Secretary Chao. The Center for Public Integrity and blogger Kevin Bondelli have researched the group's right-wing connections in detail.
Generation Opportunity says it is a nonpartisan, 501c4 organization. That means it is tax-exempt, and while it engages in political advocacy, it does not have to disclose its donors.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, 501c4 groups must have as their primary activity "the promotion of social welfare." That, says the IRS, "does not include participation in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any political candidate." This seems highly questionable for Generation Opportunity.
Stephen Colbert, with the help of former McCain campaign attorney Trevor Potter, explains what the 501c4 status means for the right-wing backers of Generation Opportunity and other such astroturf groups: (Text continues after video.)
The Center for Public Integrity reported last year that Republican groups "have formed a SuperPAC called 'Crossroads Generation' and given it $750,000 in seed money in an attempt to attract the youth vote, a population that has traditionally eluded the GOP."
"The organization says it wants to bring in young voters disillusioned by high unemployment and the national debt," the report noted.
This SuperPAC was created by Karl Rove's American Crossroads SuperPAC, the College Republican National Committee, and the Young Republican National Federation.
Crossroads Generation's Facebook page has drawn negative commentary for being a "Right Wing Facebook Front Group." Its website is even more anonymous than that of Generation Opportunity - not even a mailing address or phone number.
As Colbert and Potter explain in the video, Generation Opportunity, as a 501c4, can keep its donors hidden, but can donate to SuperPACS like Crossroads Generation.
Generation Opportunity says it "operates on a strategy that combines advanced social media tactics with proven field tactics to reach Americans 18-29." It has four Facebook pages - "Being American by GO," "The Constitution by GO," "Gas Prices Are Too Damn High," and "Keep Texas Awesome" and claims a total fan base of more than 3.4 million.
Photo: Karl Rove taking part in a discussion at the University of Delaware, Oct. 25 2010. Flickr