A front organization (or organisation), also known as a front group (if it is structured to look like a voluntary association); a front company, a shell corporation or simply a front (if it is structured to look like a company), is any entity set up by and controlled by another organization. A front organization may simply be a proxy that keeps the parent group's name out of the picture or it may look publicly as if it is set up to do one thing, but actually be set up to do something else on behalf of its parent group. See Air America.
Fronts are sometimes set up by intelligence agencies, corporations, criminal organizations, banned organizations, or other organizations that are engaged in activities with which they would prefer not to be identified.
Primary spheres of influence
The front organizations attempt to appear independent while actually working to support the parent organization. This can exist, for example, in politics, commerce, or religion, or in the areas where these intersect. In international relations, a puppet state is a state which acts as a front for another state.
In the extreme, a front organization is completely controlled by its parent organization and this fact is a secret from the general public. However, many groups that are commonly considered front groups only approximate this model: control may be only partial, or the relationship may be somewhat open.
Many criminal organizations have front companies - these are used for the purposes of laundering money, as well as providing plausible legal occupations.
Intelligence agencies use front organizations to provide "cover", plausible occupations and means of income, for their covert agents. These may include legitimate organizations, such as charity, religious or journalism organizations; or brass plate firms which only exist solely to provide a plausible background story, occupation, and means of income.
The airline Air America was set up by and wholly owned by the CIA, supposedly to provide humanitarian aid, but flew many combat support missions and supplied covert operations in Southeast Asia during the Second Indochina War. Other CIA-funded front groups have been used to spread American propaganda and influence during the Cold War, particularly in the Third World.
When legitimate organizations are used in such a manner, it can cause difficulty and risk for the actual workers. For example, the Peace Corps and CIA both maintain that there has never been any relationship between the two groups.
Some religious organizations use front groups either to promote their interests in politics or to make their group seem more legitimate. The Church of Scientology is one such organization; the FBI's July 7, 1977 raids on the Church's offices (following discovery of the Church's Operation Snow White) turned up, among other documents, an undated memo entitled "PR General Categories of Data Needing Coding". This memo listed what it called "Secret PR Front Groups," which included the group APRL, "Alliance for the Preservation of Religious Liberty" (later renamed "Americans Preserving Religious Liberty"). The Cult Awareness Network (CAN) is considered by many to now be a front group for the Church of Scientology.
Pro-Israel lobbying fronts
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has been accused of using front organizations as a means of circumventing limits on campaign spending. These front organizations have deceptive names. Delaware Valley Good Government Association (Philadelphia), San Franciscans for Good Government (California), Beaver PAC (Wisconsin), Cactus PAC (Arizona), and Icepac (New York) are examples of former AIPAC front groups.
Further information: Communist front
Marxist-Leninist Communist movements have sometimes used front organizations to attract support from those (sometimes called fellow travellers) who may not necessarily agree with Communist ideology. The front organisation often obscures its Communist provenance and may often be a tool for recruitment. Other Marxists often describe front organisations as opportunist.
According to a list prepared in 1955 by the United States Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, the Comintern set up no less than 82 front organizations in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s. This tactic was often used during the Red Scare of the 1950s a number of organizations in the labor and peace movements were accused of being "Communist fronts". More recently, the Workers' World Party (WWP), set up an anti-war front group, International ANSWER. (ANSWER is no longer closely associated with WWP; it is closely associated with a WWP splinter, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, but PSL plays a more open role in the organization.) Similarly, Unite Against Fascism, the Anti-Nazi League, the Stop the War Coalition and RESPECT are all criticised as being fronts for the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (UK). (The latter two are also accused of being fronts for the Muslim Association of Britain.)
The concept of a front organisation should be distinguished from the united front - a coalition of working class or socialist parties - and the popular front - a coalition of a Communist party with bourgeious groups. Both the united front and popular front tend to be open and honest about what groups make up their coalitions, whereas the idea of a front organisation implies dishonesty.
Fascist front organizations
Civil Liberty and the Christian Council of Britain (named in imitation of the Muslim Council of Britain) are front organizations set up by the far right British National Party.
Astroturfing is a wordplay based on "grassroots" efforts — is an American term used pejoratively to describe formal public relations projects which deliberately seek to engineer the impression of spontaneous and populist reactions to a politician, product, service, event, etc. by many diverse and distributed individuals acting of their own volition, when such reaction does not in fact actually exist.
Corporations have been known to "astroturf", but are not the only entities alleged to have done so. In recent years, organizations of plaintiffs' attorneys have established front groups such as Victims and Families United and the Center for Justice and Democracy to oppose tort reform.
Banned paramilitary organizations
Banned organizations sometimes use front groups to achieve a public face. For example, banned paramilitary organizations often have an affiliated political party that operates more openly (though often these parties, themselves, end up banned). These parties may or may not be front organizations in the narrow sense — they have varying degrees of autonomy and the relationships are usually something of an open secret — but are widely considered to be so, especially by their political opponents. Examples are the relationship between the Irish Republican Army and Sinn Féin in 1980s Ireland or between the Basque groups ETA (paramilitary) and Batasuna (party) in Spain. Similarly, in the United States in periods where the Communist Party was highly stigmatized, it often operated largely through front groups.
Corporations from a wide variety of different industries have been known to set up front groups.
For example, some pharmaceutical companies set up tame "patients' groups" as front organizations. These groups put pressure on healthcare providers and legislators to adopt their products. For example, Schering Healthcare and Biogen Ltd. tried to put pressure on the UK National Health Service (NHS) to adopt its drug Beta Interferon to treat Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sufferers. Schering set up and funded a group called MS Voice, with its own website, which claimed to represent MS sufferers. Another pharmaceutical company, Biogen, set up a campaign called Action for Access, which also claimed it was an independent organization and the voice of MS sufferers. People who visited the website and signed up for the campaign didn't realise that these were not genuinely independent patient groups.It has been alleged that computer software giant Microsoft created and funded the Association for Competitive Technology to defend its interests against charges of antitrust violations. Tobacco companies frequently use front organizations and doctors (although less openly and obviously than before).
The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) is one of the more active corporate front groups and one of several front groups created by Berman & Co., a public affairs firm owned by lobbyist Rick Berman. Based in Washington, DC, Berman & Co. represents the tobacco industry as well as hotels, beer distributors, taverns, and restaurant chains. The group actively opposes smoking bans and lowering the legal blood-alcohol level, while targeting studies on the dangers of red meat consumption, overfishing and pesticides. Each year they give out the "nanny awards" to groups who, according to them, try to tell consumers how to live their lives. They also run affiliated websites such as ActivistCash.com.
A list of some alleged corporate front groups is maintained by the Multinational Monitor.
Some think tanks are corporate front groups, distinguished from other front groups by the additional criterion that they present themselves as research organisations. Because their names suggest neutrality, they can present the commercial strategies of the corporations which sponsor them in a way which appears to be objective sociological or economical research rather than political lobbying.