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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Stacking a Hearing with Actors

Last October, about 50 people in bright orange shirts filed into City Hall for a public hearing on Entergy’s request to build a $210 million power plant in eastern New Orleans. Their shirts read, “Clean Energy. Good Jobs. Reliable Power.”

The purpose of the hearing was to gauge community support for the power plant. But for some of those in the crowd, it was just another acting gig.

At least four of the people in orange shirts were professional actors. One actor said he recognized 10 to 15 others who work in the local film industry.

They were paid $60 each time they wore the orange shirts to meetings in October and February. Some got $200 for a “speaking role,” which required them to deliver a prewritten speech, according to interviews with the actors and screenshots of Facebook messages provided to The Lens.

They were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements and were instructed not to speak to the media or tell anyone they were being paid.
In a Facebook message, [organizer Garrett] Wilkerson indicated he was working with Crowds on Demand, a Los Angeles-based company that does exactly what its name suggests. “If you need speakers to present at a council meeting, we can provide talented and well-spoken individuals to advocate for the cause,” the company says on its website.
 "Astroturfing" is the name for fake grassroots lobbying

However, astroturfing may be more common than you think. Crowds on Demand is one of the only companies that advertises this kind of work. But UCLA professor Edward Walker, who wrote a book about the phenomenon called “Grassroots for Hire,” said many other crowd services operate under the radar.

“There are hundreds of such firms across the country,” he told CNN in January. “By my estimate, around 40 percent of the Fortune 500 appears on the client list of at least one such firm.”