Archives for August 2012

Regulating Social Media


The legal implications of using social media as an organization and as part of an organization have not yet been fully vetted. Yesterday, Forbes reported on a growing controversy over Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulation of advertising on social media. The FTC imposed new regulations covering social media a few years ago and is now taking a PR agency, Reverb, to court over their practice of having paid employees post reviews for products without disclosing their employment.  This brings up serious questions about free speech and FTC regulation of Social Media.

The expanding regulations related to Social Media use are a topic that has continues to interest to Cause of Action. See our previous discussion of social media standing in court here.


Reviews Can Work Wonders, but They Can’t be Faked

By Ed Keller
August 30, 2012

An article in the New York Times caught my eye recently.  Entitled “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy”, the article says there is a growing practice of authors who commission reviews for their books, rather than letting them spring up organically on online sites such as or


It’s not just authors who crave positive reviews. The products and services from businesses of all sizes and sectors are now being reviewed online, whether on Amazon, or travel sites such as Trip Advisor or Expedia, or restaurant sites such as Open Table, or sites relating to local service providers, like Angie’s List and Yelp, or the many retail and manufacturers offer online ratings on their websites.


It’s not a surprise that there should be such a surfeit of ratings and reviews.  The research is very clear that online reviews are popular with consumers and are a powerful driver of online (and offline) commerce. According to Google, 70% of Americans say they look at reviews before taking the next step to purchase products.  And according to a 2012 global study by Nielsen, online consumer reviews are the second most trusted form of advertising with 70 percent of global consumers surveyed online indicating they trust this platform, an increase of 15 percent in four years; only word of mouth recommendations directly from friends or family is more trusted.  The Timesarticle quotes professor Bing Liu from the University of Illinois who says “The wheels of online commerce run on positive reviews.”


The troubling part about the Times article is the underlying premise that people with something to sell feel so strongly motivated to get positive reviews that they would fake it by writing them themselves or paying people to write positive reviews, rather than building up a stable to authentic reviews from customers.  This is a bad business practice on two counts. First, the marketplace is too wise to let fake reviews go unnoticed, and there is a very good chance the people who do so will be “smoked out” and publicly embarrassed, thereby negating whatever benefit they might have otherwise achieved. Second, it is potentially against the law and many businesses do not realize that.   A few years ago the Federal Trade Commission issued new advertising guidelines that cover social media and word of mouth marketing.    The guidelines make clear that companies are subject to liability for false or unsubstantiated statements made through endorsements, or for failing to disclose a material connection between themselves and their endorsers.


In one of the first cases the FTC brought under these new guidelines, a PR agency, Reverb , was charged with having engaged in deceptive advertising by having employees pose as ordinary citizens while posting game reviews online and not disclosing that the reviews came from paid employees working on behalf of the game developers.  In the press release announcing the action, Mary Engle, the Director of the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices stated: “Companies, including public relations firms involved in online marketing, need to abide by long-held principles of truth in advertising. Advertisers should not pass themselves off as ordinary consumers touting a product, and endorsers should make it clear when they have financial connections to sellers.”

If you’re unsure what constitutes ethical business practices in this area, you might want to check out the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.  The WOMMA Ethics Code provides a strong guidepost to help businesses, whether large or small, plan your social media disclosure activities. (Disclosure: my business partner, Brad Fay, is on the WOMMA Board of Directors and I am a former President of the association.)

In part, they say that any word of mouth or social media marketing should include:

  • Disclosure of identity: Make meaningful disclosures of your relationships or identities with consumers in relation to any marketing initiatives that could influence a consumer’s purchasing decisions.
  • Disclosure of consideration or compensation received: Do not engage in marketing practices where the marketer/sponsor or its representative provides goods, services, or compensation to the consumer as consideration for recommendations, reviews, or endorsements, unless full, meaningful, and prominent disclosure is provided.
  • Disclosure of relationship: Any brand or representatives involved in a word of mouth initiative on their behalf should disclose the material aspects of their commercial relationship with a marketer, including the specific type of any remuneration or consideration received.

What it all comes down in the end is that there should be genuine honesty in communication. That’s what makes consumers turn to word of mouth and social media for advice, recommendations, and help in making product choices. If you’re honest, your efforts will be rewarded. If you’re dishonest, it will be come back to haunt you.

The bottom line for all businesses is that you are being watched, both by the FTC and also by consumers who have an uncanny sense of smell for what’s real and what’s fake.

The Washington Free Beacon: Report: 170 ACORN-affiliated groups still active

Read the full article here. Washington Free Beacon

“Cause of Action, a nonprofit government watchdog group, recently identified 174 active or rebranded ACORN affiliates, as well as organizations that share former ACORN staff. The groups shared the same physical location, leadership or staff, or tax ID number as old ACORN chapters, Cause of Action said.


At least two of the groups, Affordable Housing Centers of America (AHCOA) and Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY), have received federal dollars. According to MHANY, it receives funds from the Federal Home Loan Bank, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Fannie Mae. “It’s a serious concern because, as we stated in our letter to the IRS, it has been engaging in political activity,” Cause of Action executive director Dan Epstein told the Free Beacon. “We have concerns that these rebranded groups are using the same model that ACORN essentially trademarked: getting tax-exempt funds and using them for political purposes…”


174 Hidden ACORN Chapters Still Exist

After the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN) was shut down in 2010, was there really an end to the scandals and abuse of taxpayer funding for which the organization had become known? Cause of Action recently published a list of “still-active ACORN entities, ACORN allies, and rebranded ACORN organizations.” This list included 174 different entities that have connections to ACORN and may be engaged in the same type of activities.

Read what others are saying about this list and what these re-branded ACORN groups’ existence mean:

American Political Blogs

Free North Carolina

The Daily Blogster


Washington Examiner: Report: ACORN network still active under new names

Read the full story here. Washington Examiner

“But that doesn’t mean it vanished from the landscape altogether. The nonprofit watchdog group Cause of Action published a list today of “still-active ACORN entities, ACORN allies, and rebranded ACORN organizations.”


The connections between these groups and the old ACORN groups include: having the same physical location, sharing leadership or staff or having the same tax ID number. “For some of these groups, all they did was legally change their name. Nothing else changed. The corporate structure, leadership and staff are the same,” said Karen Groen Olea, Cause of Action’s chief counsel. “At least two of the groups, Affordable Housing Centers of America and Mutual Housing Association of New York, have received federal dollars”, Cause of Action said…”

CoA Uncovers Still-Active ACORN Entities, ACORN Allies, and Rebranded ACORN Organizations


List of Still-Active ACORN Entities, ACORN Allies, and Rebranded ACORN Organizations

  1. 1825 Atlantic MHANY, Inc.
  2. 4415 San Jacinto Street Corporation
  3. 5301 McDougall Corporation
  4. 730 Rockaway MHANY, Inc.
  5. A Community Voice (ACV)
  6. ACORN Community Land Association of Pennsylvania
  7. ACORN Community Land Association, Inc.
  8. ACORN Global Enterprises, L3C
  9. ACORN Loan Program
  10. Action NC
  11. Action Now
  12. Action Now Institute
  13. Action United
  14. Action United Education Fund
  15. Action United Political Action Committee
  16. Advancement Project
  17. Advancement Project California
  18. Advocates and Actions
  19. Affiliated Media Foundation Movement, Inc.
  20. Affordable Housing Centers of America (AHCOA)
  21. Affordable Housing Centers of Pennsylvania
  22. Agape Broadcasting Foundation, Inc.
  23. Alliance for Justice (AFJ)
  24. Alliance for Justice Action Campaign
  25. Alliance Institute
  26. Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment
  27. Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Institute
  28. American Home Day Care Workers Association, Inc.
  29. Applied Research Center
  30. Arizona Center for Empowerment
  31. Arkansas Broadcasting Foundation, Inc.
  32. Arkansas Community Institute
  33. Arkansas Community Organizations (ACO)
  34. ASI Community Center
  35. Association for Rights of Citizens, Inc.
  36. Association for Union Democracy
  37. Austin Organizing and Support Center, Inc.
  38. Baltimore Organizing and Support Center, Inc.
  39. Baton Rouge Association of School Employees
  40. Broad Street Corporation
  41. Catalist LLC
  42. Center for Labor Education and Research, Inc.
  43. Center on Policy Initiatives (CPI)
  44. Chicago Organizing and Support Center, Inc.
  45. Chief Organizer Fund, Inc.
  46. Chincoteague Cultural Alliance, Inc.
  47. Citizens Consulting Inc.
  48. Citizens Services, Inc.
  49. Communities United
  50. Communities United New Jersey
  51. Communities United Training and Education Fund
  52. Communities Voting Together
  53. Community Asset Development Redefining Education
  54. Community Empowerment Education Fund
  55. Community Labor Administrative Services, Inc.
  56. Community Organizations International
  57. Community Voices Together
  58. Connecticut Working Families Party
  59. Dallas Monthly Meeting of Friends, Inc.
  60. Delaware Alliance for Community Advancement, Inc.
  61. Delawareans for Social and Economic Justice (DSEJ)
  62. Elysian Fields Corporation
  63. Elysian Fields Partnership
  64. Fifteenth Street Corporation
  65. Flagstaff Broadcasting Foundation, Inc.
  66. Florida Institute for Reform and Empowerment (FIRE)
  67. Florida Watch Action, Inc.
  68. Floridians for All PAC
  69. Forefront Organizing
  70. Good Jobs = Great Houston
  71. Good Jobs Now, Inc
  72. Good Jobs, Better Baltimore
  73. Greenwell Springs Corporation
  74. Hammurabi Fund, Inc.
  75. Health Care for America Now
  76. Home Defenders League
  77. Housing Here and Now
  78. Houston Organizing and Support Center, Inc.
  79. Impact Restoration Community Development
  80. Institute for Neighborhood Action
  81. Jobs With Justice
  82. Jobs With Justice Education Fund
  83. KABF Radio
  84. KNON
  85. Labor Education and Research Project
  86. Labor Neighbor Research and Training Center
  87. Leadership Center for the Common Good
  88. Leadership Center for the Common Good Action Fund
  89. Living United for Change in Arizona
  90. Massachusetts Jobs With Justice
  91. McLellan Multi-Family Corporation
  92. MHANY 1 Associates, L.P.
  93. MHANY 1 Inc.
  94. MHANY 1999 Housing Development Fund Corporation
  95. MHANY 1999 II Housing Development Fund Corporation
  96. MHANY 2 Associates, L.P.
  97. MHANY 2, Inc.
  98. MHANY 2002 Housing Development Fund Corporation
  99. MHANY 2003 Housing Development Fund Corporation
  100. MHANY 2004 Housing Development Fund Corporation
  101. MHANY 2005 Housing Development Fund Corporation
  102. MHANY 2007 Housing Development Fund Corporation
  103. MHANY 2011 Housing Development Fund Corporation
  104. MHANY 2012 Housing Development Fund Corporation
  105. MHANY 2012 II Housing Development Fund Corporation
  106. MHANY 3 Associates, L.P.
  107. MHANY 3, Inc.
  108. MHANY 4 Associates, L.P.
  109. MHANY 4, Inc.
  110. MHANY Bristol Housing Development Fund Corporation
  111. MHANY Bristol, Inc.
  112. MHANY Holdings 2012 LLC
  113. MHANY Management Inc.
  114. Middle South Home Day Care Workers Association, Inc.
  115. Minnesota Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (MNOC)
  116. Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition
  117. Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE)
  118. Montana People’s Action
  119. Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY)
  120. National Housing Resource Center
  121. New England United for Justice (NEU4J)
  122. New Jersey Working Families Alliance
  123. New Majority Education Fund
  124. New Mexico Organizing and Support Center, Inc.
  125. New York Agency for Community Affairs (NYACA)
  126. New York City Parent Organizing Consortium
  127. New York Communities for Change (NYCC)
  128. New York Communities Organizing Consultants, Inc.
  129. New York Communities Organizing Fund (NYCOF)
  130. New York Organizing and Support Center
  131. North Carolina Social Justice Project
  132. Nwannedinamba of Columbus, Ohio
  133. OLE Parents Association
  134. Organization United for Reform Washington (OUR Washington)
  135. Organize Now
  136. Organizing for Action California
  137. Organizing in the Land of Enchantment (OLE)
  138. Our City, Our Schools
  139. Our D.C.
  140. Pennsylvania Communities Organizing for Change (PCOC)
  141. Pennsylvania Institute for Community Affairs, Inc.
  142. Pennsylvania Neighborhoods for Social Justice (PNSJ)
  143. People’s Equipment Resource Corporation
  144. Phoenix Estates Housing Development Fund Corporation
  145. Phoenix Hunts Point Corporation
  146. Phoenix Organizing and Support Center, Inc.
  147. Progressive Future Education Fund
  148. Progressive Maryland Education Fund
  149. Progressive Maryland, Inc.
  150. Project Vote
  151. Public Services for the Public Good
  152. Radio New Mexico
  153. San Francisco Labor Council
  154. Sankofa Community Development Corporation
  155. SEIU 1199
  156. SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas
  157. SEIU Local 21 LA
  158. Services Employees International Union
  159. Sixth Avenue Corporation
  160. Southern Training Center
  161. St. Louis Organizing and Support Center
  162. St. Louis Tax Reform Group
  163. Start Corporation
  164. Texas Organizing Project (TOP)
  165. Texas Organizing Project Education Fund (TOP ED)
  166. Texas United City-County Employees Inc.
  167. The Black Institute
  168. United Family Corporation, LLC
  169. United Labor Foundation of Greater New Orleans, Inc.
  170. Voter Alliance to Improve Democracy
  171. Wal Mart Alliance for Reform Now, Inc.
  172. Working Families Association, Inc.
  173. Working Families Party
  174. World Owerri People’s Congress Inc., Columbus/Franklin County Ohio Chapter




Click here for sources and explanations of each organization’s connections with ACORN and each other.

Are FOIA Challenges Hurting Government Transparency?


Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are an important legal tool, which allows for organizations such as Cause of Action and the public to find out about how the government is spending tax dollars. FOIA is the only real method that the public can use to get specific details on certain aspects of spending and government activity, which is necessary to ensure greater transparency.  FOIA inquiries often yield huge results that take extensive time and effort for agencies to gather and respond to, which often leads to agencies being unable and unwilling to comply with large requests.

The lack of efficiency in agency compliance with FOIA requests serves as a significant hindrance in using this tool effectively to ensure accountability and transparency by Federal Agencies.  Cause of Action submitted a statement for the record to the Congressional Oversight Committee’s hearing on FOIA and Transparency concerning this very issue:


Hearing Before The Committee On Oversight and Government Reform

SeafoodSource: Calif. oyster grower fights National Park Service

Read the full article here.

“Cause of Action, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit dedicated to fighting federal overreach, today filed a Data Quality Act complaint before the National Park Service (NPS) for its intentional use of inaccurate, nontransparent and deliberately misleading information in an attempt to deny a renewable permit to a California family business for use of national park territory. Kevin and Nancy Lunny have a permit that allows their family business, Drakes Bay Oyster Co., to farm oysters in the Point Reyes National Seashore. When it expires in November, Drakes Bay, which has been operating for many years, will be forced to shut down and more than two dozen Californians will lose their jobs, thereby cutting off a substantial amount of the Bay Area’s commercial oyster supply.

“The National Park Service should not be allowed to get away with using bad data to justify closing a small business,” said Amber Abbasi, chief regulatory counsel at Cause of Action. “The evidence clearly shows how NPS, despite being called out by another federal agency and a credible member of the National Academy of Sciences, is using junk science to bully a family business into shutting down. We’ve sent a complaint to the NPS urging them to adhere to their own information-quality standards for the use of scientific information and correct the Final Environmental Impact Statement. NPS needs to make clear that a neutral scientific analysis reveals that DBOC does not adversely impact the environment in Drakes Estero.”