Generation Opportunity, a secretive Koch-funded anti-government group aimed at “Millennials who love freedom,” built a massive social media following through a misleading campaign to get users to “like” abstract concepts like “being American.” Now, it is seeking to expand its social media network and contact lists campaign that ostensibly opposes excessive regulations on popular food trucks.
In 2010 and 2011, Generation Opportunity created Facebook pages for “Being American” “The Constitution,” and “Gas Prices Are Too Damn High” — and quickly enlisted hundreds of thousands of users who “liked” the generally non-controversial concepts. Only after building up a large fan-based for these pages did the group update the pages to push out to their fans a series of anti-Barack Obama, anti-Obamacare, anti-government messages. Then, the group boasted of the millions of fans it had plugged into its social media operation — a fraction of whom had likely joined with any concept of who Generation Opportunity was or what it represents.
Its latest campaign centers around a “petition” to no one in particular, in support of food trucks. Popular among young workers in urban areas but not by some brick-and-mortar restaurants, cities like Washington, DC have recently debated how best to regulate the burgeoning business. Through sponsored Tweets, Generation Opportunity enlists food truck fans to retweet a message and sign their petition against the big businesses who hate competition and are trying to “push regulations” to cripple the industry.
The petition site is clearly aimed at capturing more social media followers — the button to sign the petition without authorizing sharing their Facebook “public profile, friend list, email address, News Feed, relationships, birthday, current city, likes and your friends’ birthdays, current cities and likes” with Generation Opportunity through it’s Free the Future app has a frown emoticon next to it.
The Center for Public Integrity noted in 2011 that the allegedly “nonpartisan” organization’s pro-Republican slant was not surprising when considering the backgrounds of those connected to the organization: its president Paul T. Conway (not a millennial) was a former chief of staff to George W. Bush’s Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, a former confidential assistant to conservative stalwart and Education Secretary William Bennett, and a former deputy director of the Heritage Foundation’s “citizenship project.” Other top operatives for the group included prominent Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway, and former Congressman John Hostettler’s (R-IN) one-time chief of staff Matthew Faraci.
According to the New York Times, Generation Opportunity receives major funding from Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists who bankroll a host of ultra-conservative efforts aimed at obstructing action on climate change, impeding progress on clean energy, and eliminating government regulations. It claims to be a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization, which need not disclose its donors, but does not even appear to have filed any annual reports with the Internal Revenue Service.
After a disappointing 2012 election, Generation Opportunity replaced Paul T. Conway with a new president who is an actual Millennial — unsuccessful 2012 Tea Party Congressional candidate Evan Feinberg. Feinberg, who got 33 percent of the vote in a primary challenge to incumbent Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), is a former aide to Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Rand Paul (R-KY) and an advocate for elimination of the U.S. Department of Energy, the Department of Education, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, much of the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice’s federal anti-gang efforts.
Under his leadership, the astroturf group is back to its old tricks. On the group’s website it claims to be ” the voice of young people in Washington and in local communities.” But its history shows it is really an effort by non-Millennials to catfish young people and then push their de-regulatory and pro-GOP agenda.
A spokesman for Generation Opportunity did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the organization’s funding.