Award-Winning Astroturf Part 2 – DDC Advocacy (Stand with Main St.)

So sorry I missed a prestigious award for DDC Advocacy this February 2014.  DDC Advocacy (Stand with Main Street/Alliance for Main Street Fairness won an award as well this year!  The join their partner in astroturf Finn Partners.

DDC Advocacy Wins Prestigious Reed Award – Best Public Affairs Campaign of 2013

From their Press Release

“DDC Advocacy (DDCA), a leading full-service international public affairs firm, was awarded the Reed Award for “Best Overall Public Affairs Campaign of 2013″ by Campaigns & Elections. The award recognizes their work to condition the federal and state legislative environment for sales tax parity state-by-state.”

and

“DDC Advocacy launched a public affairs campaign to shed light on online-only retailers who have exploited a sales tax loophole that pre-dates the Internet and provides them with an unfair advantage over brick-and-mortar stores.”

Yes, out of the goodness of their heart DDC Advocacy launched a public affairs campaign against that “sales tax loophole” AKA many decades of settled law and Supreme Court decisions.  Oh wait, they were paid?  By big box retailers?  That makes more sense.

Just so we’re clear who the folks with the charming campaign are:

DDC Advocacy (DDCA), the leader in issue advocacy since 1996, is a full-service public affairs advocacy firm executing custom-designed engagement programs and campaigns for government, non-profit, association and corporate clients. We leverage our company’s extensive capabilities, leading technology tools and strategic expertise to achieve winning results for clients, impact policy and shape public debate. Among our comprehensive suite of services and products, DDCA offers advocacy strategy, global and local in-district campaigns, digital engagement targeting, outreach tools, grassroots technology, PAC compliance, public relations, social media, and government services.”

Grassroots technology?  Sounds like Astroturf to me!

I certainly hadn’t heard of Campaigns & Elections before.  Here’s their blurb about themselves:

Campaigns & Elections is the preeminent “how-to” journal of politics, focused on the tools, tactics and techniques of the political consulting profession.”

Again, as grass roots as it gets!

 

 

Hypocritical Stand with Main Street Small Biz Examples

There seems to be some serious cognitive dissonance with the small businesses trotted out lately by Stand with Main Street and 21st Century Retail – the main power PR companies behind Pro-MFA forces.

Many to MOST of the small businesses they trot out lately have an online retail store as well and DO NOT CHARGE TAX outside of their home state.

A recent hill.com PR piece (I mean commentary, probably written or mostly written by someone else) signed by 4 store owners.  3 of them have online stores and don’t charge tax outside their state.

The most recent Stand with Main St. Vine Tweet – They sell online too.

Do they not get how hypocritical this is?  Are their online presences small enough to be under the minimum (and exempt from the MFA)?  Probably.

Complaints that there is not a level playing field, while doing the same thing.  Looks level to me.  And for those who don’t have a small online store… why not?  Nothing stopping you for most retail industries.

 

 

 

 

 

Fake Polls vs. Real Polls

When is a poll not a poll?  OK, not a legitimate poll….

  • When the poll questions aren’t even shared
  • When the poll methods and methodology aren’t shared

How do we have any idea about 70% percent “support” for something when we literally don’t even know what the question is?   We don’t.  Then it’s not a legitimate poll, just a dishonest attempt to create a press release with a few meaningless figures.

21st Century Retail AKA Efairness.org AKA ICSC (International Council of Shopping Centers) is who is squarely in the dishonest polling category.  Not just are the questions not covered, the numbers found in previous years seem to shift.

A legitimate poll?  Or at least a poll that discusses its details:

Ohio Voters Tell Congress: NO to New Internet Sales Tax Laws!  July 2014 Poll

The poll by R Street and National Taxpayers Union shows strong opposition to a new sales tax collection mandate 65% to 26%, among other things.

Now you can certainly quibble about any polls questions, methodologies and approach – but only if you actually HAVE this information.  With the Pro-MFA 21st Century Retail’s “polls”, there’s no chance to actually address flaws in the polls.  And that’s just the way they want it.

Politico Article – “The Big Muscle Behind MFA”

Who is really behind the “Alliance for Main Street Fairness” AKA Stand with Main St. – just confirmed a bit more clearly in a recent Politico Post.  Yes, they all are big proponents of small businesses.

“Retail giants such as Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart — the big muscle behind the pro-online sales tax movement — are all members of the Alliance for Main Street Fairness.”

 

Pro-MFA Lies – Updated

To recap: Laffer’s report bought and paid for by pro-MFA supporters predicted small benefits if MFA’s new tax was passed and the states reduced taxes by the same amount.  His theory is it’s a better tax.  Paper-thin at best and any small gain spread out over 10 years looks impressive.

But Laffer required tax cuts for any benefits, else the opposite would occur with a tax increase.  Only 2 states expressed interest in actually doing this.  So 44 states would see a decrease in jobs according to Laffer’s own theories.

But it doesn’t actually matter if you believe Laffer’s report or not, because Stand with Main Street is just flat out lying about it now.  No more nuance in very fine print (if states use the revenue wisely).

“Did you know that #CA would see 180,000 new jobs if the Marketplace Fairness Act is passed? Check out how” – a tweet today from SWMS.

Not could.  Not might.  Would.  Even Laffer would call BS on this one.

CA isn’t even likely to join streamlined if MFA passed.

CA will absolutely not cut taxes to offset any new revenue if it did.  (Think bullet train to nowhere)

It just struck a nerve.  It seems that most (not all) of the pro-MFA people would say or do anything to have it be passed.  Either they’re paid to do so (as most of the Astroturf PR companies are) or stand to profit significantly from passage of the legislation.  Whether it be partial truths, flat-out-lies, or utterly false presentations on the state of technology.. I’m sick of the lying.

I’ve danced around using the “L” word, but the music has stopped.  Time to stop dancing.

UPDATE

A Stand with Main Street Facebook status update from 11/12:  “Did you know? The Marketplace Fairness Act would expand Main Street businesses and create 1.5 million new jobs by 2022. That’s why supporting e-fairness legislation is so important to getting our economy moving forward again.”

Yes, MFA is suddenly a magical jobs program.  And a dessert topping.  And a floor wax.

Stand with Main Street is paid to do whatever it takes to  pass the Marketplace Fairness Act for the big box retailer who sign their checks.   Whatever it takes clearly includes lying.

MFA Proponents – A Cheat Sheet

Just a simple summary post to keep track of who is who, rather than reading more detailed posts about each company or astroturf organization.  Links if you want more details from other blog posts here.

Organizations

Stand with Main Street (website, facebook, twitter) = DDC Advocacy.  A fine purveyor of pretend grass roots movements.  A heavy tweeter.   AKA Alliance for Main Street Fairness. @standwithmainst

21st Century Retail – International Council of Shopping Centers – Run by Finn Partners (who won an award for the astroturf site).  ICSC seems fond of misleading “polls” that lack credibility – but good for press releases. Medium-level tweeter. @efairness

Marketplace Fairness Coalition – Paid for the Laffer Report, source of many Pro-MFA sites’ tweets and posts that selectively or falsely represent the contents.  Finn Partners runs this site as well.  @mfcoalition

Taxcloud – Most visible of the 6 tax providers (CSPs) by far in pushing this issue (for obvious reasons).  Probably the smallest of them.  Source of MANY blog posts here and has aggressively pushed for passage, many times I believe with dubious claims, or worse.    Would probably support taxing a lemonade stand as long as they got their cut.  @taxcloud @fedtax @mfainfo

Avalara – A venture-funded, seemingly pretty large CSP.  The first CSP I took to task for misleading and contradictory statements and another one who (in my opinion) downplays real concerns regarding MFA.  @avalara

People

David Campbell – CEO of Fedtax/Taxcloud/The Federal Tax Authority and primary spokesman for them and a key commenter and publisher of pro-MFA propaganda.  “It’s free, it’s easy”.  Years of comments, posts and testimony almost unchecked by small business owners until the Senate rammed through passed the MFA.  Then we woke up.  Those days are long gone.  Generally posts as Fedtax or his name (which I do respect).

Sten Wilson – Even a more prolific commenter than David.   Frequently they both comment on the same stories (no, they aren’t the same person).  Taxcloud Customer.  A sheep farmer in NY.  According to Linkedin: “Technology Evangelist”, “Free Lancer” and “Advocate” as well.  Honestly, the combination of his post volume, the time he must spend on it and the over-the-top Taxcloud mentions, my first thought was paid shill for them.  Virtually every post uses very interesting language and word choices, I can generally see his posts a mile away (even if he posts under aliases).  He setup a blog for it, a twitter account… and he has also traveled to pro-MFA events.  How is he affording this?  Who is paying him or footing the bill?  I have my doubts, but in the absence of proof, I’ll go with MFA zealot for now.  IF he’s being compensated in any way, time for some FTC disclosures.

Congressman Steve Womack (3rd AR) – Sponsor of the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013 in the House of Representatives.  Surely a coincidence that Wal-Mart is based in his district?

21st Century Retail / ICSC Poll – Support Dropping?

First of all, it’s a press release more than a poll.  Nowhere can I find the actual verbatim questions, detailed methodology or numbers like legitimate polls do.  There’s just a little bit of info, just enough to make it sound remotely credible.

The poll was from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) AKA 21stcenturyretail – A longtime pro-Marketplace Fairness Act group.  The poll results were hardly surprising overall.  But are they going to the well once too often?

It looks like they polled the same types of questions in a May 2012 press release here, vs. the 2013 version just released.  Again, without the real questions we can only go on their press release quotes.

A “key finding” in each year:

2012:  “86% of consumers feel it would be easier to pay sales tax on online purchases at the point-of-purchase rather than at the end-of-the-year on their tax forms, as is the current system.”

2013: “78% of voters feel it would be easier to pay state sales or use tax on online purchases at the time-of-purchase rather than through special forms or when they file their income taxes”

So according to their press release bullet points, support is dropping?

How about what on the face appears to be a whopper regarding the percentage of people who know they are supposed to pay tax on out of state purchases on their state tax forms?

May 2012: “61% of respondents in states that collect sales tax understand that they are required to pay state sales or use tax on online purchases if not collected by the vendor when they file their state income tax.”

October 2013:  “64% of consumers are aware that they are required to pay state sales or use tax on online purchases, if not collected by the online seller, when they file their state income tax. This is up by 23 percentage points since October 2012. (emphasis mine)

Are the people at the ICSC or ORC exceptionally bad at math?  Or was there an incredible decline in knowledge for a few months, then a rapid gain after that?  Shall we graph that?  Or is someone just making stuff up?

The type of poll seems fairly easy to get any desired range of answers, if you frame the questions towards the desired result.   The CARAVAN poll methodology .  Heck, this kind of poll seems perfect to generate a press release with zero actual accountability regarding the questions.  I’m sure I could phrase the questions from a very different point of view and get completely different results.  Some of these benefits are even listed in the service description.

  • “And, of course, responses remain proprietary- belonging only to your organization” – and
  • “Generate news publicity with attention-grabbing survey findings”

There’s some evidence of how intellectually dishonestly these polling questions are in the November 2012 press release.  It’s fairly obvious these are just done occasionally to have another reason for a press release.

“71% of respondents are motivated to shop locally because 68 cents of every dollar spent at a locally-owned retailer stays in the community” or “82% of consumers who support federal legislation do so because “common sense dictates that if you buy a product online you should pay the same sales tax as if you had bought the same product in a store.”

Yes, I’m sure those phrases just rolled off the tongues of those answering the polls.  Classic, meaningless polls.  But at least support appears to be dropping 🙂

 

 

 

Coordinated Pro-MFA Blocking – Our Twitter Acct Blocked from Following Pro-MFA Sites

Well, I guess the Pro-MFA forces got together in a dark room, perhaps near Bentonville Arkansas with all the money and time Wal-mart has pumped into foisting the Marketplace Fairness Act on consumers and smaller remote and catalog retailers.

I picture Fedtax/Taxcloud, Finn Partners, DDG Advocacy, Wal-Mart Womack and others sitting around smoking cigars, sipping cognac and twirling their old-timey mustaches.   Besides these lobbyists, PR firms and general purveyors of misinformation about the Marketplace Fairness Act are the pro-MFA shills.  I’m sure Sten is there, coordinating with them what he needs to copy and paste next, or what new commenting account he should start up.

OK, time to stop daydreaming, back to earth.  Pretty pathetic that all of these pro-MFA forces clearly acting in concert blocked our twitter account from following their accounts.  It’s not like we can’t still reply to their never-ending stream of BS about the Marketplace Fairness Act in their twitter accounts.  Those PR firms must be pumping those interns full of coffee to keep it up.

P.S. For those slow on the uptake or humorless on the subject (DC) – The above scene was obviously a joke.

Hypocritical Marketplace Fairness Act proponent examples are rampant!

Do the PR companies running the astroturf campaigns for the Marketplace Fairness Act have cognitive dissonance?  Or are they completely clueless?

I can’t tell you how many of these 21st Century Retail or Stand with Main Street posts, testimonials and down-home but slick-looking videos feature “Main Street” retailers who also sell online!  I’d even say a majority of the examples they list have online storefronts.

So is it unfair and they can’t compete?

Or they can’t compete and want the government to step in and impose massive compliance costs, audit risks and overreach their state boundaries to harm tens of thousands of their larger competitors?  They’re obviously under the small business exemption level or they wouldn’t be rooting for this legislation to pass at all.

A few of the latest examples, shared on their website and tweets

21st Century Retail – Brian Daniel B&C Sports in Virginia.  Sells online on their website AND on Ebay.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1IUS63GbiM

21st Century Retail – Michelle Sahr – My little red wagon,  Hudson Ohio.  Sells on their website.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbeiL640Jls

Stand with Main Street – AKA Wal-mart and DDG Advocacy.  Many of the speakers also sell online.  I did like her quote: “E-commerce brings a lot of opportunity to brick and mortar stores” – So why cripple them as they grow?  (Side note, seeing Wal-mart Womack behind the speaker really gets on my nerves, he’s the rep for Wal-Mart’s district and an author of the bill.  A sock puppet of Wal-mart)

Brumby Chair Co. – Yup.  Ships anywhere.

Scripture Stall – Yup

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGH9PZR2WWI

There are just a few of the examples, most of the videos I have seen do feature retailers who sell online but apparently aren’t for fairness and want the government to help.

 

 

 

 

Best Buy Managers Copy & Paste for Letter Writing Campaign

Go ahead and google this phrase:
“overdue legislation is aimed at protecting local jobs and restoring rights back to states”

There’s a new Seattle Times letter I’m commenting on.  It’s obviously a form letter from a Best Buy manager in Seattle.

Hmmm I see another Best Buy manager letter with virtually the same exact post, cut and paste and I’m sure blasted out to newspapers on the orders of Best Buy senior management.  This one is in the Dallas Morning News.

It never ends with these big box retail guys trying to shove this new tax through.

At least David had a sling.