The Astroturf de Tocqueville Institute

Last year I wrote about how Tech Central Station was an astroturf operation, drafted by a public relations company to provide supposedly independent support for the PR companies clients. The Alexis de Tocqueville Institute (ADTI) is another astroturf operation.

As part of the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Philip Morris (PM) agreed to release millions of documents about their operations. These detail how ADTI was hired by PM to conduct a public relations campaign against the Clinton health plan in 1994. ADTI provided PM with regular progress reports to prove that PM was getting value for its money, so they also let us see how these campaigns are conducted.

The Clinton plan included an increase in taxes on cigarettes from 24c per pack to 99c. Understandably, PM was not in favour of this, so a Philip Morris executive suggested an astroturf campaign, writing to one of his people:

Having just read the Washington Post with a series of provocative articles about Canada cutting taxes, CBO estimating higher costs AND job loss from the Clinton plan and then our old favourite, former president current home builder, Jimmy Carter explaining why higher taxes will help tobacco farmers, it occurred to me that we ought to turn a few of our better letter writers loose to blitz the targeted states with letters to the editor about Clinton, Carter and Canada...

If you want some astroturfing done, who you gonna call? The Alexis de Tocqueville Institute:

David N & I think the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute is perfect for this kind of thing. We are working with them on a proposal.

And here is their proposal:

Our three key executives, Cesar Conda, Bruce Bartlett and myself, will run this campaign and we will devote the full energies of our operation and its consultants to this task. We plan to activate our key Advisory Board Members, including Jack Kemp, Robert Kasten, Dick Armey, Michael Boskin and others to mount a public awareness campaign immediately (see enclosed list of Center on Regulation and Economic Growth participants).

As you can see from our press in recent months, we are in a position to deliver. We would like to request $60,000, or $30,000 a month, to implement this program.

And over the next two months ADTI ran a PR campaign against the Clinton plan. For the benefit of PM they documented all their activities. You can see all the documents here, but some of the highlights are:

ADTI fellow Bruce Bartlett wrote an issue memorandum that formed the basis of their campaign, writing "the effect of the plan would be to increase federal taxes by over 27 percent". ADTI arranged for this claim to repeated over and over again on radio and in print. Now the cigarette tax increase that PM was trying to prevent was only an increase in federal taxes of 0.5%. Since the Clinton plan made health insurance compulsory Bartlett counted all health insurance payments as tax increases. The plan was also expected to reduce insurance costs and hence increase wages (since employers could afford to pay more). Bartlett counted the additional tax revenue from the increased wages as a tax increase. I think the average worker who heard about this 27% tax increase would feel that it meant they would be paying 27% more taxes rather than that their wages would go up and their employer would have to provide health insurance for them.

ADTI arranged for their "27% tax increase" message to be sent to hundreds of radio talk shows, to appear in a Washington Times news story and to be sent by a Congressman to all other members of Congress. The Washington Times drafted a Bartlett op-ed but apparently "27% tax increase" wasn't enough of a headline for them, so they gave it the headline "How to quadruple federal revenue". (Bartlett's op-ed actually says "Federal revenues, however, would not quadruple".)

Look at this letter from ADTI to Robert Caldwell, the Editorial Page Editor at the San Diego Union Tribune and an ADTI operative advisory board member:

Congresswoman Lynn Schenk is one of 5 key swing Democratic health care votes in the Energy and Commerce Committee. There is reason to believe she is looking for reasons to vote against Clinton, and there is reason to believe that she can be spooked on the tax issue, especially after her 1993 Budget vote.
An editorial from the most important paper in her district urging her to do the right thing for the right reason would obviously have a huge impact, and could be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Nowhere in their campaign did ADTI mention that they were hired by PM to oppose the tobacco tax increase. Instead they presented themselves as a "bipartisan" economic think tank that was merely presenting an analysis of the Clinton plan. "Bipartisan" here would seem to mean that they are for sale to either side.

ADTI has been in the news this week because their president, Ken Brown has drafted a book where he claims that Linus Torvalds created Linux by copying from Minix. Stephen Shankland writes:

According to the study, it's safe to argue that Tanenbaum, who had years of OS experience and who had seen the Unix source code, could create Minix in three years. "However, it is highly questionable that Linus, still just a student, with virtually no operating systems development experience, could do the same, especially in one-sixth of the time," says the study, which was written by Ken Brown, president of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution.

"Why are the most brilliant business minds in the history of PC technology, with hundreds of millions of dollars in capital, licensing Unix source code, if it is as simple as writing it from scratch with little help or experience?" the study asks. "Is it possible that building a Unix operating system really only takes a few months--and, oh by the way, you don't even need the source code to do it?"

Brown's argument works by ignoring the difference between version 0.01 of Linux which was only 10,000 lines of code and current versions of Linux which contain millions of lines of code. Linux version 0.01 was well within the capabilities of a good programmer in six months, but was by no stretch of the imagination something that could replace a Unix system. Current versions of Linux can replace Unix systems, but have taken a decade to develop with contributions from thousands of people.

Could Brown have made an honest mistake? Well, he actually talked to Tanenbaum, who Brown claimed Torvalds copied Linux from, and Tanenbaum told him in no uncertain terms that Linux was not copied from Minix. And Brown hired someone to compare Linux with Minix, who found no evidence of copying. It is clear that Brown's mistake was not an honest one.

So why would Brown do such a thing? Well, ADTI gets funding from Microsoft:

Several tank officials and analysts, who spoke to UPI on the condition of anonymity, said that the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, a small Arlington, Va.- based think tank that promotes free-market principles, receives a significant portion of its funding from the Microsoft Corp. The sources said that the think tank essentially lobbies in favor of issues important to Microsoft through op-ed pieces and policy briefs by tank officials.

It seems likely that, just as their attack on the Clinton health plan was commissioned by Philip Morris, their attack on Linux was commissioned by Microsoft.

More links on Brown's book: Eric S Raymond's review:

I haven't seen a book quite so egregiously shoddy and dishonest since Michael Bellesiles's Arming America.

Martin Pool's review

  • Nearly every paragraph makes an unsubstantiated assertion. Brown seems to feel that just inserting "it is clear that", "ironically", "clearly", or "it is widely known" is an adequate substitute for cited evidence. Ironically, it clearly is not.
  • Experts are asked misleading or hypothetical questions to elicit quotes that are used out of context. I think ADTI is not honest enough to ask straight questions because the answers would not suit them.
  • Brown says he can't believe that Linus wrote Linux, because... well, he just can't believe it. Nothing more. He does not cite even a single line of Linux source that was copied from any other system, despite that all the data needed to check this is available to him. If he found even one line, his paper might be credible. But he does not.

Pamela Jones' Groklaw has more on the story here, here, here and here. ADTI promise a response here, but it's still "under construction".

More like this

Who cares how the Clinton health plan was defeated, so long as it was defeated. That thing was the worst piece of government central planning that I'd seen in a long time.

And the Microsoft / Linux thing? Who cares? Microsoft with their supposed strong-arm monopoly (when Linux is FREE, a monopoly??, uh huh). When you have the entire press ideologically against you, what choice do you have but to plug your side of view on some alternate media? Besides, what's the point? Are people going to stop using (or avoid using) linux because Linus Torvolds maybe created it a half hour a day while he sat on the crapper? What exactly is the point of criticizing that silly piece?

If ADTI and TCS are dishonest in some way, fine, grill them, they were stupid to do so. Both the Clinton health plan could be destroyed and Microsoft upheald on their own merits (or lack of them).

The reasons to be scared of the Clinton health plan far outshawdow any problems with someone giving Phillip Morris favorable PR. Who do those goverment bastards think they are anyway taxing tobacco like that anyway? Everyone knows smoking is bad for them, if you do it anyway and get cancer and die, tough. Tax yourself next time.

Ben, the point is that the Clinton Health plan and Microsoft software should be judged on their merits, not judged by a dishonest ADTI campaign. If you don't think tobacco should be taxed, then say so and explain why. Don't attack some other aspect of the plan when your real objection is to the tobacco tax. And the point of the attack on Linux is not to make current users give it up, but to discourage companies from adopting it by raising uncertainties about intellectual property.

Yep, that's true. It is frustrating when organizations that espouse the views I share don't take the intellectual high road :p

Well, PM surely screwed that up. National Healthcare would have helped with private suits against them. So instead they shot it down because of a tax on an incredibly price inelastic product.

I must say, Tim, I'd hate to make you angry and throw the switch that gets you on MY case (metaphorically speaking).

Damn, you're thorough.


It seems to me that Linus has an interesting case against Brown, the ADTI AND their sponsors Microsoft for libel and defamation. It could be amusing, and I am not even a lawyer.

Fantastic post! thank you so much for doing this. I can't wait to send a link to people to this site.

You can also search for Morris-Tocqueville documents here.


I know what it's like to have embarrassing fellow-travellers. Some of the outlandish things Linux advocates say make me wince, and I really like Linux. There are kooks in every camp: right, left, conservative, liberal, pro-gun, anti-gun, ...

However, what Microsoft did with AdTI goes beyond merely happening to share the same opinions. MS gave AdTI money, presumably with the knowledge that it would produce this kind of crap. Publishing it through an "independent" institution is a mere figleaf. What you read in the Brown report is the best argument against Linux that Microsoft can muster.

I see you've linked to Wikipedia a bit in the past. We've been working on an article on the AdTI and this blog entry is linked in the criticism. The article is notably lacking in the tobacco industry bit. The hard bit is (a) writing something that doesn't constitute original journalism (which would count as "original research" - we're strictly a secondary source) and maintaining neutrality. If you aren't a Wikipedia contributor, you probably should be and would be most welcomed.

So is it just my imagination, or what? Does AdTI director, congressman Chris Cox ($11,000 donations from M$) want to attract more campaign contributions to his republican party from Microsoft? Is that what it's all about? Or, is is about M$ wanting to sell more software to the government, and paying AdTI some money for a smear campaign is one way to the get attention of Cox's Homeland Security committee?

Does a former CFO of Microsoft on the board of Heritage Foundation (who hasn't quit microsoft - keeps a VP title) influence Heritage's programs to get M$'s employee, Homeland Security director on the program, or is it Becky Dunlap, director of AdTI AND vice president of Heritage Foundation who decided that?

And what does this have to do with's FUD campaign that is bigger and going on longer than AdTI's? I mean, really "Is Open Source Software Equivalent to the Borg?", isn't this rather extreme, or just extreme-right? Somebody want to explain which factors are more important: is it covert political control in the name of "libertarianism"; or billionaires like SCAIFE and GATES just got to stick together; or is it minions currying favour obsequiously groping for advancement up a rung on the ladder; or scum-sucking bottom-feeders oozing out slime from every pore just can't help themselves? Your analysis on this fuzzy subject is urgently needed.

All Recipients Among Federal Candidates, 1989-2004

COX, Christopher (R-Calif) $11,000

Money to Congress: 2004 Cycle

House -- Democrats $371,450; Republicans $283,000
TOTAL $654,450

Senate -- Democrats $224,677; Republicans $82,000
TOTAL $306,677

Incumbents: $961,127; Non-Incumbents: $33,700

MICROSOFT hires national security advisor
Lisa M. Bowman, CNET
November 14, 2002, 09:14 BST

Hoping to play a larger role in homeland security, MICROSOFT has tapped former US political adviser Thomas Richey for a new position counselling policymakers on IT issues

Many companies are hoping to get a piece of the homeland security business, which could provide a windfall to the tech sector. Any new homeland security department set up by the US government would need to purchase computer equipment for internal use and would likely promote new technology to help the United States fight terrorism.

What's more, government officials have said they need more cooperation from the private sector, particularly because so many of the country's tech systems are under the control of companies.

Chris COX to Chair New House Homeland Security Committee
1/8. The House will continue the new Select Committee on Homeland Security. Its Chairman will be Rep. Chris COX (R-CA).

On November 25, 2002, President Bush signed HR 3005 (Public Law No: 107-296), the bill creating the new Department of Homeland Security. ...

... Rep. COX was first elected to the Congress in 1988, and has since focused on technology, foreign affairs, and trade issues. He has generally been a low taxes, deregulation, free enterprise, and free trade type of Republican. He has been Chairman of the Republican's House Policy Committee since 1995. He is a senior member of the House Commerce Committee, and its Telecom Subcommittee. ...

Monday, January 13

... 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM. The HERITAGE FOUNDATION will host a panel discussion titled "Harnessing Information Technology to Improve Homeland Security". The speakers include James Gilmore (Chairman, Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction), Lee Holcomb (Office of Homeland Security), TOM RICHEY (Director of Homeland Security, MICROSOFT), Tom Gann (VP & GM, Siebel Systems), and Peter Brookes (HERITAGE). See, notice. Location: HERITAGE, 214 Massachusetts Ave NE.

Harnessing Information Technology to Improve Homeland Security
January 13

TOM RICHEY, Director of Homeland Security, MICROSOFT Corporation
Vice President, The HERITAGE FOUNDATION ... She also oversees the HERITAGE Lectures and Seminars program which provides a forum for key leaders and policymakers to present their ideas for discussion and debate.
* Richard M. Scaife, HERITAGE Trustee Since 1985
* Robert J. Herbold, HERITAGE Trustee Since 2003 Retired Chief Operating Officer MICROSOFT
Herbold, MICROSOFT's recently retired CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER ... HE ALSO WORKS PART TIME FOR MICROSOFT as an executive vice president, assisting in the government, industry and customer areas.
Staff and Associates
* CHRISTOPHER COX, Co-Chairman, AdTI Board of Advisors,
* BECKY NORTON DUNLOP, AdTI Director, Democracy and the Environment Research Program
1991-2004 is a project of The HERITAGE FOUNDATION.
* Open Source, Open Questions, Small Business Survival Committee
* Intellectual Property: The Open Source Challenge (pdf), Small Business Survival Committee
* Open Source Software Presents Serious Property Rights Problems for Businesses , Small Business Survival Committee
* Has Open Source Reached Its Limits?, Institute for Policy Innovation
* Is Open Source Software Equivalent to the Borg?, Small Business Survival Committee
* Software Wars: Open Source And The New York Times, Competitive Enterprise Institute

By lion kuntz (not verified) on 09 Jun 2004 #permalink

Alexis de Tocqueville Institution -- The George Mason University connection -- There was NOTHING "academic" or "scientific" in the tobacco-EPA reports put out by AdTI. They were political and selfish-interest (profit first! above integrity) motivated and crafted deceitfully. Greed is behind the slams on Linux and Open Source, delivering a gullible public into the Microsoft monopoly clutches, and leaving them No Free Choice alternatives. It is monopolistic predatory practices at it's historic worst.

Ken Brown

Christopher Cox

S. Fred Singer

Gary Anderson

Gordon L. Brady

Jeffrey Clark

Thomas Hopkins

Dwight R. Lee

  • -- has had full time tenured faculty appointments at the University of Colorado, Virginia Tech University, George Mason University, and the University of Georgia where he has been the Ramsey Professor of Economics and Private Enterprise since 1985.

Robert D. Tollison

  • -- is the Robert M. Hearin Professor of Economics in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Mississippi ... has served on the faculties at ... George Mason University, ... as Director of the Center for Study of Public Choice at George Mason (1984-1998). He also held endowed chair at ... George Mason Universit[y].

Richard Wagner

Richard Vedder (Other, not GMU)

Mark Thornton (Other, not GMU)

Malcolm Ross (SEPP, not GMU)

Gerhard Stohrer (SEPP, not GMU)

  • -- July, in Chemical & Engineering News (7/18/94) "A pause on environmental policy," letter to the editor by Dr. Gerhard Stohrer and Dr. Frederick Seitz, mentions SEPP.

The Web behind the people behind AdTI's phoney tobacco whitecoats reports:

Organizations sharing the Institute of Humane Studies address (4084 University Drive, Suite 101, Fairfax, VA)

The Moneybags behind the people behind AdTI's phoney tobacco whitecoats reports

Koch Industries (and Scaife) connections to Institute for Humane Studies and George Mason University

  • -- 1) George Mason University Foundation, Inc. $14,048,850, 7) George Mason University $1,042,605, 11) Institute for Humane Studies $534,000, 14) Mercatus Center $400,000, 33) Atlas Economic Research Foundation $40,000, 52) John Locke Foundation $17,000.
  • -- 7) Institute for Humane Studies $2,100,000, 10) George Mason University $1,400,000, 25) George Mason University Foundation, Inc. $350,000.
  • -- (KOCH) 3) George Mason University $2,311,149, 4) George Mason University Foundation, Inc. $2,074,893, 12) Institute for Humane Studies $455,000, 43) Atlas Economic Research Foundation $28,500, 52) John Locke Foundation $15,000, 54) Alexis de Tocqueville Institution $12,500.
  • -- 20) George Mason University Foundation, Inc. $2,670,000, 41) George Mason University $1,656,000, 70) Atlas Economic Research Foundation $920,000, 96) Institute for Humane Studies $520,000.
  • -- (SCAIFE) 14) Atlas Economic Research Foundation $855,000, 38) Institute for Humane Studies $430,000, 116) George Mason University Foundation, Inc. $75,000.
  • -- John Hasnas is an associate professor of law at George Mason University ... Between 1997 and 1999, Professor Hasnas served as assistant general counsel to Koch Industries, Inc. in Wichita, Kansas.
  • -- Charles G. Koch, chairman of the Institute for Humane Studies, the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, on the board of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and as a member of the Mont Pelerin Society.
  • -- The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation has announced that Wayne Gable is the foundation's new president. Currently the managing director for federal affairs at Koch Industries, Mr. Gable has also worked as the president of the Center for Market Processes, Tax Foundation, and Citizens for a Sound Economy. In addition, the foundation's vice president, Victoria Hughes, will be leaving to establish the Bill of Rights Institute, a nonprofit organization that will focus on educating high school students and teachers. Joining the foundation as vice president will be Kelly Young. Mr. Young has worked at the Koch Foundation and is currently assistant dean for special projects at George Mason University School of Law.
  • -- Richard Fink of Centreville is executive vice president and a member of the board of directors of Koch Industries, Inc., in Washington, D.C. A member of George Mason's economics faculty from 1980 to 1986, he was founder and director of the Center for Market Processes (now part of the Mercatus Center). He also served as executive vice president for advancement and planning at George Mason in 1989-90. On the Board of Visitors, Fink is Vice Chair of the Faculty and Academic Standards Committee and serves on the Student Affairs Committee. Founder and former president of Citizens for a Sound Economy in Washington, D.C., Fink is a trustee and former president of the Charles G. Koch and Claude R. Lambe charitable foundations, and serves on a number of boards, including the George Mason University Foundation, the Progressive Policy Institute, the Institute for Humane Studies, and George Mason's Center for Study of Public Choice.
  • -- Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Richard Fink
  • -- Independent Women's Forum President, Nancy Mitchell Pfotenhauer joined IWF in 2001 from Koch Industries, where she was director of the Washington Office. ... holds a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Georgia and a Masters of Arts degree in economics from George Mason University.
  • -- (1991 estimated date) Candace Crandall Executive Vice President of the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP). SEPP will co-sponsor a conference with George Mason University in May on scientific integrity in the political process. Crandall has arranged for a number of prominent scientists to be participants, including Dr. Bernard Davis of Harvard University and Sir William Mitchell of Oxford University. Crandall is Dr. Fred Singer's wife.