Just a year and a half after it’s much ballyhooed launch, with dancing cans and supposedly serious politicos doing the Harlem Shake, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson’s “The Can Kicks Back” astroturf group is running out of funds.

Politico broke the story this week.

“The Can Kicks Back — which targets millennials and was conceived as a partner and affiliate of the group Fix the Debt — is running low on cash, according to emails and documents reviewed by POLITICO.


The group left a history of documents, including financial statements and internal deliberations over policy decisions, online in a Google Group that was open to public view but was recently closed. Those documents provide a peek into the day-to-day planning and operation of a modern public affairs campaign, one that publicly presented itself as driven by grass-roots energy but largely relied on big donors and wealthy Wall Street types for funding.”


“One fundraising problem The Can Kicks Back has faced is the entirely accurate perception that it is not actually a grassroots organization of young people deeply concerned with reckless entitlement spending and unsustainable long-term debt, but rather yet another front group — and in this case a particularly ineffective one — for the small network of billionaires who have spent decades advocating tax cuts and the rolling back of Social Security and Medicare benefits, in the name of fiscal responsibility.” Salon

For true grassroots organizations, tough economic times usually mean you turn to your grassroots membership for support.  What is especially telling in The Can Kicks Back’s case is that according to internal emails obtained by Politico TCKB turned –not to the millennials they claim to represent – but to their true base, America’s 1%.

“According to emails, it also took meetings or made fundraising asks of former oil and gas executive T. Boone Pickens, aerospace magnate Norman R. Augustine and First Pacific CEO Bob Rodriguez, among others, since 2012.


The group has also approached Fix the Debt for additional financial resources and brainstormed a list of donors to be set up with that included former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Blackrock CEO Larry Fink, salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, venture capitalist Reid Hoffman, eBay CEO John Donahoe and others.” 

TCKB is suffering from more than just a lack of finances. It also suffers from a lack of a true identity, since the public never quite bought their claims of being an independent grassroots supported movement.

“In response to a 2012 Slate piece by reporter Dave Weigel linking The Can Kicks Back with the billionaire anti-debt activist Peter Peterson, Eisenstadt argued that the group should request a correction — saying that the perception that they are Peterson-funded was hurting their credibility, according to an email thread.


‘Technically one can make an argument that we are…” (THCKB organizer) Parent wrote back in an email. ‘We receive most of our money from [Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget], which has received large amounts of funding from Peterson.’  Slate never appended a correction to the piece.”

You might be tempted to write off this story as just one example of a financially troubled Washington advocacy group trying to stay afloat.  But as the New York Times’ Paul Krugman reports, it’s much more than that.  The Can Kicks Back story gives us all a seldom seen glimpse inside Washington’s web of astrotruf advocacy groups posing as representatives for a constituency with which they have virtually no contact.  All the while they’re actually doing the business of America’s corporate and Wall Street backed interests. 

“they show how much of what passes for genuine expression of public concern is really just a bought and paid-for (or, in the case of The Can, not sufficiently paid-for) front for plutocratic priorities.”

 Lastly, the Huffington Post provides the most detailed description of the internal emails showing just how phony, this astroturf group truly is.