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Know Your Madisonian: Lisa Graves helps raise awareness of public-opinion manipulation

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Lisa Graves is executive director of the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy. The CMD was founded in 1993 to monitor how public relations is used to manipulate public opinion.

Lisa Graves is executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which publishes PRWatch, SourceWatch, BanksterUSA and

A graduate of UW-La Crosse and Cornell Law School, she has served as a senior adviser in all three branches of the federal government and as the senior strategist on national security issues for the American Civil Liberties Union.

CMD was founded in 1993 to monitor how public relations is used as a tool to manipulate public opinion, with an emphasis on environmental and agricultural issues.

The Center's latest project, "Atrazine Exposed," focuses on the PR campaign of a global corporation in the sale of an herbicide that is not permitted in the European Union but widely used in the United States. CMD released documents showing that PR firms, some scientific "experts" and pundits who defend atrazine in national broadcast interviews have received millions in payments from the Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta.

Q: Why is this project on atrazine relevant to people in Wisconsin?

A: Wisconsin is one of the states where it's widely used. We know from scientific studies that even small amounts in water can affect the hormone levels of lab animals. Human endocrine levels can be changed by very small doses of things.

Q: How does another one of your big projects, "ALEC Exposed," which investigates the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), impact Wisconsin residents?

A: ALEC has a lot of influence in this state. ALEC is an organization in which corporate lobbyists and politicians approve model legislation behind closed doors, as equals. They sit together on task forces to discuss, amend and vote on these model bills outside of public view.

Then, some of these provisions are introduced into state legislatures, including in Wisconsin, cleansed of any reference that they've already be pre-voted on by corporations outside of public view. Some, which concern worker rights and the environment, are rammed through legislatures without any opportunity to amend them. Scott Walker is an ALEC alum. More and more people are aware of ALEC and they're outraged.

Q: What are CMD's plans for coverage of the recall elections?

A: We'll concentrate on shadowy groups running ads. Who are these groups that are created in the dark of night, have unlimited funds and then disappear after they've done their smear jobs? These front groups affect public perception without accountability, which is unacceptable in a democracy.

Q: You worked in Washington, D.C. for many years; how does its political climate compare to that of Wisconsin?

A: I was so excited to move back to Wisconsin (with husband Don Zweber), which is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I'd always thought of Wisconsin as a place where government worked well and public employees were well-respected and good at their jobs. So to see what unfolded last year in the attacks on public workers was shocking.

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