Readers have asked us to take a look at a West Virginian organization calling themselves the "Friends of Coal." 
According to their website, the Friends of Coal  is a "... volunteer organization that consists of both West Virginians and residents from beyond our borders." Sounds all very grassroots. Just a group of citizens joining together to cheer on the glories of coal.
For a volunteer organization Friends of Coal are very well-heeled - how many volunteer groups have a sponsored race car,  run television ads  and send logo-ed frisbees to the troops in Iraq? 
It didn't take long though to figure out where all that money is coming from. The Friends of Coal is a thinly veiled front group of the main coal industry lobby group in West Virginia, the West Virginia Coal Association.  Most obvious is the logo in the bottom left hand corner of the Friends of Coal website (but no disclosure of their involvement) and a quick domain name search finds that the Friends of Coal website is registered  to the West Virginia Coal Association.
The membership of the West Virginia Coal Association  is the who's who of the coal industry.
The technique is called astroturfing and it's one of the oldest public relations ploys in the spindoctor play-book. While most people inherently mistrust big industry, they do trust their neighbors and groups who do not appear agenda-driven and that's why astroturfing works.
At least it does until pesky sites like DeSmogBlog start to poke around!