A front group is a term used to refer to a group set up and controlled by another group, often by a controversial fringe movement, cult, or political party. The reasons for doing this are several, among them:
- The most basic reason is the front group's name and connections to the controversial group may not be well known to the public, except to those paying close attention. Further, the front group may have an innocuous name and mission statement which never mentions the group in control of it. This can make it possible to, for example, raise funds through the front group from people who would not give to a controversial group. An example is the corporation HSA-UWC, which stands for "Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity", which is what most people would know as the Unification Church or "The Moonies". Usually one sees only "HSA-UWC" in connection with corporate holdings.
- Public relations: Often the front group will be an innocuous-seeming charity working on an issue such as hunger or the arts. This provides the group with public goodwill which may distract from the group's more controversial aspects. One example is Pat Robertson's "Operation Blessing." Another is the Castillo All-Stars, an arts and drama project operated by Fred Newman's Social Therapy movement.
- Front groups can be used as a cover for recruitment. The Scientology-controlled drug rehabilitation program "Narconon" is a case in point as it is used to recruit new members into Scientology. Communist political parties often use this type of front group, setting up protest groups on issues with broad public support, such as anti-war, but controlling the message and framing in a top-down manner and trying to recruit from the broad spectrum of people who show up. A good example is the British group Stop the War Coalition which is close to the far-left Socialist Workers Party. Another example is Lyndon LaRouche's "Schiller Institute," which promotes classical music and the arts on the surface but also functions as an entryway into the LaRouche movement.
- Lobbying and political groups, which pose as separate organizations but in fact lobby for public policies which benefit the controversial group controlling it. An example from (again) Scientology is the "Citizens Commission on Human Rights," which campaigns against psychiatry. Another example is the now-defunct Natural Law Party, which attempted without any success to win public support for government sponsorship of Transcendental Meditation in schools, prisons, and elsewhere, claiming it would reduce crime and poverty.
- Political "dirty work" such as smearing the opponent of a favored candidate for standing for derided views or policies while the supported candidate gets to appear as a likable person even if a stooge of the front group. In America such front groups are well financed enough that they can flood media with derogatory details about the opponent without having accountability for campaign finance. Such groups include ALEC, Citizens for Prosperity, and FreedomWorks. Once their favored politician wins election, that politician almost invariably follows the direction of the front group without exception.
- During the Cold War period the CIA set up several front groups in Europe in order to influence politics, youth and the intellectual elite. The secret CIA controlled front groups had names like American Committee on United Europe, European Youth Campaign and Congress for Cultural Freedom. They had so much influence that they had a controlling influence in the creation of the EU.
- Business fronts: The independent business organizations within Amway are obvious examples as is Amway's online "Quixtar" version. This can be seen as a way of winning customers and new salespeople among those for whom the Amway name carries negative connotations but may not have heard of the other names.