My rule of thumb: Trust nothing you hear from a group calling itself "Concerned Citizens" for this or "Americans" for that. They're about as grassroots as the green at your nearest miniature golf course.
Take this outfit that President Barack Obama and the Democrats have been attacking lately, Americans for Prosperity.
The other day I got a robo call inviting me to cheer on AFP's cross-country November is Coming bus tour, which rolls into Overland Park today.
The aim, as I understand it, is to rally opposition to Democrat Stephene Moore in her bid to succeed husband Dennis Moore in Congress. Never mind that tax-exempt groups like this are forbidden to work for or against individual candidates — just issues.
Point is that Americans for Prosperity was not founded by Joe and Jane Six-Pack who wanted to change the system. Billionaire David Koch created it. He and his brother Charles run Wichita-based Koch Industries, one of the world's richest privately held companies.
The Kochs have made no secret of their political involvement in libertarian causes. But they haven't exactly trumpeted their involvement, either.
They were none too happy, I expect, when The New Yorker recently spent 10,000 words detailing the brothers' backing of Americans for Prosperity and the tea party movement.
For love of country? Maybe some, but writer Jane Mayer reports that many of the group's political stances mirror the business interests of Koch Industries, an oil and gas company that also has big stakes in the timber industry (Georgia-Pacific, maker of Dixie cups) and other sectors.
Of course, conservatives and libertarians are not alone in backing astroturf (phony grassroots) organizations. Earlier this year, Fox News reported on how unions and other left-leaning interests funded groups like Patriot Majority and Citizens for Progress.
But most of the activity we've seen around Kansas and Missouri this election cycle has been on the right.
Catch any of those anti-Robin Carnahan commercials? Not all are paid for by her Republican opponent in Missouri's Senate race, Roy Blunt. A group called Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies is targeting the Democrat for defeat.
Who are they?
While the donor list is secret, you might be interested to know that the guy tending the turf is Crossroads co-founder Karl Rove.
It's a free country. And hey, what is politics if not a game of manipulation?
But don't be a sucker. Any "grassroots" organization that has millions to spend on elections most probably is not what it claims to be.
And while you might think you agree with its agenda, it's a sure thing that the group's interests will always trump yours.