GOP leadership touted pro-tax plan op-eds that were deceptive cut-and-paste jobs

Lobbying group NFIB placed virtually identical op-eds about taxes from different authors in newspapers

In the midst of the congressional debate over its wildly unpopular tax plan, Republican leaders attempted to create the impression of a “drumbeat” of support by touting opinion pieces from “real Americans” and “state leaders.”

“The drumbeat for tax reform did not waver over the long Thanksgiving weekend,” proclaimed a press release about “state leaders” from Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office, which included that “West Virginia’s state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, Gil White, doubled down on the benefits to small businesses in the state” in an op-ed. 

“Across the country, real Americans recognize what they stand to benefit,” read a press release from the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, which cited op-eds from National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) West Virginia director Gil White and Dan Lloyd, the plant manager for Procter & Gamble's Green Bay, WI, manufacturing facility.

But those op-eds were deceptive cut-and-paste jobs that appeared virtually word-for-word in other publications by different authors and were part of a pro-corporate tax cut media campaign by a deep-pocketed business lobbying group and one of the largest corporations in the country.

NFIB placed four op-eds in newspapers that were virtually identical but were supposedly written by four different authors. Editors told Media Matters that the lobbying group didn’t inform them they were using the same language elsewhere and had they known they wouldn’t have run the pieces.

Media Matters recently wrote about similar media efforts by Procter & Gamble to gain public support for the Republicans’ unpopular efforts on taxes. That included placing plant manager Dan Lloyd’s op-ed in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (WI) and subsequently four other op-eds under different names with virtually the same language.

Editors also criticized P&G’s tactics, with two explicitly saying they would not have run the pieces had they known it was a cut-and-paste effort. The Press-Gazette later added an editor’s note stating “Procter & Gamble indicated in an email to the Press-Gazette that this op-ed was written by the Green Bay plant manager. A review found it had not been previously published. We have since learned that almost identical op-eds by different plant managers were published elsewhere.”

The National Federation of Independent Business, which describes itself as “America’s leading small business association," has heavily supported Republican candidates and causes over the years. Mother Jones has written that NFIB is a “front group” that's been “leading the fight against taxing the rich.” The group, whose IRS recent IRS 990 forms show annual revenues over $100 million, has received money from organizations backed by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch. The group has spent over three million dollars this year on lobbying and is now backing the Republicans’ efforts on taxes, which include large cuts to the corporate tax rate.

Part of the NFIB’s efforts to pass the GOP tax plan has included attempts to create the appearance of a groundswell of local support through opinion pieces by various NFIB leaders in local newspapers. While those op-eds have different authors, they are all virtually the same except for a sentence mentioning the U.S. senators who represent the paper’s readers. (Thanks to reader Waner, who previously wrote a post noting the similarities and notified Media Matters through our tip line.

The op-eds include:

  • A November 17 op-ed by NFIB Kansas state director Dan Murray in the Topeka Capital-Journal (KS).
  • A November 23 op-ed by NFIB Louisiana state director Dawn Starns in the Shreveport Times (LA).
  • A November 26 op-ed by NFIB West Virginia state director Gil White in The Intelligencer (Wheeling, WV).
  • A December 2 op-ed by NFIB Florida executive director Bill Herrle in The Palm Beach Post (FL).

Here, for example, is a composite image that compares the texts of the November 17 op-ed by Dan Murray and the Gil White op-ed from November 26 that was promoted by GOP leaders:

NFIB did not respond to requests for comment.

Editors at the papers which published the NFIB op-eds criticized the organization for its tactics and said that had they known the opinion pieces were cut-and-paste jobs their outlets wouldn’t have run the pieces.

Jeff Gauger, executive editor at the Shreveport Times, said: “We did not know it was an astroturf letter. If we’d known, we would not have published it. If NFIB reps send more letters, we’ll quiz them hard before agreeing to publish their letters."

Matt Johnson, editorial page editor at the Topeka Capital-Journal, said: “The article in question was published in The Topeka Capital-Journal before it ran in any of the other outlets you mentioned. We were not aware it would be published anywhere else. In fact, NFIB senior media manager Todd Pack assured me that the organization hadn't sent the piece to any other newspapers when he submitted it.” He added that they wouldn't have published the piece had they been made aware of that.

Mike Myer, executive editor at The Intelligencer, said that they "were not aware the same language was used by other authors. Had we known, we would have requested a change or, at the very least, noted similar or the same language was used elsewhere by other authors.”

The Palm Beach Post did not respond to a request for comment.