Just recently I learned the term “astroturf,” an operative’s expression for a fake grass-roots movement, so I suppose I’m lucky to run so quickly into an example. It seems that in an unguarded speech last week a former employee of the Pew Charitable Trusts boasted that the “popular concern” that helped induce Congress to pass McCain-Feingold was in fact astroturf he had laid down with the help of $40 million of Pew’s money. The money he had from Pew, together with the $90 million plunked down by six other liberal foundations, suggests he wasn’t talking through his hat. Some of the money was spent rather directly to buy helpful coverage from outfits like NPR and American Prospect magazine, much of the rest on buying up experts and setting up religious, business and minority groups, all very vocally concerned about campaign finance reform but pledged to silence on their own source of funding. There were some worried moments, he said, when George Will caught on to Pew’s role. Not surprisingly, though, the press wasn’t interested and the story went nowhere. After all, why would the press want to show that there’s something wrong with a campaign to suppress competing channels for forming the public mind?