The liberal watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy says Fix the Debt a key unit in philanthropist Pete Peterson's corps of organizations to battle the national debt is a pro-business effort masquerading as a grassroots movement.
In a conference call with reporters Friday, CMD director Lisa Graves called Fix the Debt "an Astroturf supergroup that is exceedingly well funded." The term "Astroturf" refers to groups that appear to be citizen-organized but actually have their roots at consultants' offices inside the Capital Beltway.
A spokesman for Fix the Debt hotly denies the charge. Jon Romano said the center got some of its facts wrong, adding, "It is unfortunate that some would rather cast aspersions and misrepresent this view than engage in a constructive conversation about tackling this very real problem. Demagoguing does nothing to protect the most vulnerable."
Fix the Debt is promoting a citizens' petition, with 346,000 names. CMD, which last year used leaked documents to report on the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council, traced the corporate ties and lobbying records of Fix the Debt leaders.
Among the co-founders, co-chairs and steering committee 13 people in all it found six who sit on corporate boards, including GE, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley; advisers to Goldman Sachs and the private equity firm KKR; and lobbyists for KKR, the Private Equity Growth Capital Council and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Fix the Debt also has two well-populated advisory groups: a CEO council with about 90 members, and a Business Leaders Council of about 40.
"They really are posturing as a grassroots movement," says Graves. "They are putting forward this notion of these business leaders not as job creators, but as problem solvers on the economy when in fact the record shows that a lot of these companies are actively lobbying to keep tax loopholes open" and to promote other corporation-friendly policies.
CMD's analysis also appears in The Nation, in a package of stories on Peterson's long-running effort to move the national debt to the top of Washington's agenda.