Vote 4 Energy
This guest article was written by Mary Bottari and Sara Jerving of the Center for Media and Democracy, crossposted from PR Watch.
The fossil fuel industry has paid a hefty price for the privilege of framing the political discourse about America's energy future. Hundreds of millions have flowed into campaign coffers from energy companies attempting to purchase complete freedom to drill, frack, and burn. Huge "dark money" groups, the Koch's, Karl Rove, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, join dozens of oil and gas industry associations in pouring money into television ad campaigns demanding "energy independence," while trashing wind and solar.
Things were going great. Even though hurricanes had slammed into two Republican National Conventions in a row, no one seemed to notice, and Romney's only mention of climate changes was as a punchline. No reporter asked a single climate change question of Romney or Obama during the debates. Even though the U.S. now had 175,000 wind and solar jobs, pro-green energy forces were disappointed in Obama and were less active. For big oil and gas the White House and the Senate were within reach. Critically, they had to move fast before the majority of voters started to not only notice the changing climate patterns, but really started to worry about them.
Then something happened that completely scrambled the board.
Hurricane Sandy blew New Jersey out of the water and inundated New York. The massive storm threw the Romney campaign completely off-message. Not only did they have nothing to say about the serious issue of climate change and the potential for more frequent and more devastating monster storms, the Romney-Ryan message of "smaller government" and "fewer first responders" sank in the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.
In an unprecedented, last-minute move, Independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg threw his support behind Obama yesterday. His statement "A Vote for a President to Lead on Climate Change" lays out the seriousness of the situation. "In just 14 months, two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods -- something our city government had never done before. If this is a trend, it is simply not sustainable," Bloomberg states.
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
Polluting High Rollers Dominated the Airwaves
Until Sandy rolled in, the airwaves were completely dominated by the fossil fuel industry.
According to The New York Times, by mid-September there had already been a $153 million spent on TV ads that promoted the fossil fuel industry. The analysis showed that energy topics were mentioned more frequently than any other issue besides jobs and the economy. This figure is four times what clean energy advocates were spending.
The numbers stand in sharp contrast to the last presidential election in which the green energy industry and other forces spent $152 million compared to $109 million spent on fossil fuel interests.
Broadly, the ads promote fossil fuels in the context of jobs, domestic security, and energy prices. Combined, they try to convince Americans that "energy independence" should be the nation's top priority. Yet they neglect to point out that solar and wind also create high-wage jobs and energy independence too. According to Open Secrets, oil and gas campaign contributions are at historic highs and are more lopsided than ever before with 90 percent of the funds going to Republican candidates. Top contributors include William Koch's Oxbow Corp, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and Koch Industries, who have already contributed $59 million to federal candidates. Leading coal mining corporations, such as Alliance Resource Partners, Cumberland Development, and Murray Energy, have kicked in $11.6 million to federal candidates.
But the money does not stop there. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision has opened the door to unprecedented spending by "dark money" nonprofits, SuperPACs and new constellations of trade associations that are on track to spend over $1 billion to "educate" voters about the issues, including the urgent need to extract and burn every last bit of fossil fuel.
- Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, a "dark money" group and his American Crossroads SuperPAC, pledged to spend $300 million in this election, a large percentage on fossil fuel spin. There are dozens of ads in the presidential race and in Congressional races. One Crossroads ad blames Obama for higher gas prices. Another slams Obama for putting the Keystone Pipeline on hold. While Crossroads GPS does not disclose its donors, American Crossroads PAC does and it is loaded with fossil fuel contributors, including Alliance Resources Partners CEO Joe Craft who has given the group $1.25 million, Petco Petroleum which has given the group $1 million, and over $2 million from TRT holdings, which controls Tana Exploration, a Texas-based oil and gas company.
- David Koch's Americans for Prosperity "dark money" group, pledged to spend over $100 million this year in support of Republican candidates. The group's ads also attack Obama and clean energy when talking about Solyndra and the stimulus bill which allegedly sent some clean energy jobs overseas. More recently they have pushed pro-coal "Stand with Coal" ads in Ohio and Virginia.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an industry association and dark money group, has pledged to spend more than $50 million on the election and has fielded energy ads in key races such as Ohio with a messages like "Shale Works for Us," in promotion of expanding drilling for shale oil and gas.
- The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal industry front group, has pledged to spend some $40 million on coal related ads. One ad, targeting Ohio's Sherrod Brown, criticizes the Senator for endorsing "higher energy taxes" linking him to "Washington's costly energy policies."
- The American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade association, has pledged some $40 million this campaign season on efforts to push the expansion of oil and gas drilling. Two of their primary campaigns, "Vote 4 Energy" and "Energy Citizens" attempt to exert the aura of a grassroots base pushing for fossil fuel development. Their ads feature "energy voters" parroting fossil fuel talking points.
- The American Energy Alliance, a "dark money" group run by former Koch Industries lobbyist Tom Pyle, is spending millions alleging that Obama's policies would lead to $9 a gallon of gas and a recent ad airing in Ohio and Virginia harps on Obama for comments he made about coal industry in 2008.
Rarely are voters seeing any counter-narrative. Alternative energy forces have spent only $2 million, and some environmental groups are weighing in with modest resources. New ads by the League of Conservation Voters saying U.S. Senate Candidate Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will stop the offshoring of U.S. jobs and "will end big oil subsidies" -- with cheerful Wisconsin windmills and pumpkins in the background -- started only in the final days of the campaign. Is it any wonder that candidates have been able to ignore the serious issues?
"To ignore a global crisis that has been fully understood for over 15 years and is quickly slipping out of control shows just how far coal and oil money have drowned out constituents all the way from the Statehouse to the White House," said Greenpeace's Connor Gibson.
What Does the Fossil Fuel Industry Want?
Although environmentalists are not happy with what they perceive as Obama's timidity, the fossil fuel industry is apoplectic about the steps he did take as president. They have leveled blistering criticism about Obama's efforts to slow down the Keystone Pipeline; they don't like his new auto emissions standards; they are unhappy with new EPA mercury emissions rules for boilers; and they don't like the fact that permits for drilling and fracking on federal lands have slowed.
The industry is looking for a victory in the battle over TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline project, which would carry heavy tar-sands crude oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, exporting some portion of the oil overseas. Construction of the pipeline was confronted by an active movement of citizens concerned about the impact that the pipeline would have on communities and on the threat burning the tar sands posed to the planet. Burning all the available tar sands would be "game over" for the climate, according to NASA scientist Jim Hansen, one of the nation's most respected climate change experts. Romney has vowed to give the project clearance on his first day in office, while Obama has approved a portion of the segment, and has allowed for further environmental impact study of the northern portion.
The industry also wants carte blanche to use federal lands for the highly controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" for shale oil and gas. Fracking has the documented potential to contaminate drinking water sources and foul both air and land -- in addition to spoiling millions of gallons of fresh water as part of the drilling process.
The industry is calling for a streamline on the permitting process for fossil fuel development on all lands. While industry's ads have argued that increased drilling will decrease gas prices, global gas prices largely follow international trends.
The industry is also keen to hold onto to the billions of fossil fuel subsidies it receives each year from the federal government. According to the International Energy Agency, fossil fuel subsidies from the government are 12 times greater than renewable energy.
No matter who wins the presidency, there will be major battles on each of these issues. The question is, after years of fossil fuel propaganda, how engaged will the American public be in the effort to save the planet from the fossil fuel industry?
The Price of Fossil Fuel Propaganda
According to author and activist Bill McKibben, "This will be the warmest year in American history. It came with the warmest month in American history, July. It featured a statistically almost-impossible summer-in-March heat wave. It brought us a drought so deep that food prices have gone up 40 percent around the world. It brought us this completely unprecedented mega-storm, the biggest storm, as one weatherman put it yesterday, to hit New York since its founding in 1624," McKibben told Time.
The problem according to McKibben is that "there's been a 20-year bipartisan effort in Washington to accomplish nothing, and it reached its comedic height this summer when our presidential candidates, despite barnstorming through the warmest summer in American history, seemed not to notice. The reason is the incredible power of the fossil fuel industry. Until we can diminish that power, I imagine nothing very large will be done to deal with climate."
Hurricane Sandy has launched a full frontal attack on fossil fuel industry propaganda.
It is up to us to follow in her path.
Will Dooling contributed to this article.
We'll get to the encounter with Mr. Gerard below, but first, some context:
This particular meeting of the subcommittee exposed some of the more blatant absurdities that API and their oil funded buddies in Congress like to propagate. Take gas prices - Jack Gerard likes to say "we need more American energy," by which he means we need to open up every square inch of soil and water to oil and gas extraction. His argument is that gas prices would be lower if we sacrificed our land and investment capital to Big Oil's drill.
Luckily Congressman Edward Markey was there to point out how ridiculous it is to assume anything extracted by multinational oil corporations is "American." Once multinationals like BP and Exxon get oil from American sources, it becomes their oil, to sell on the open world market for the best price. The fact is, letting companies drill for oil on American soil won't result in any drop in price at the gas pump because the amount of oil American sources would produce is miniscule in comparison to the amount consumed globally. Allowing companies like Shell to drill off Alaskan shores or in other high-risk ways wouldn't save American consumers a dime, but would add many millions of dollars to Shell's bottom line. Gerard's refusal to acknowledge this belies a truth about API that he doesn't want the public to know - the American Petroleum Institute does not want to lower gas prices for Americans, API wants to increase the political power and profits of their member organizations.
That's why Rep. Markey suggested some more appropriate labels for Gerard's group than the American Petroleum Institute; like the "World Petroleum Institute" due to multinational members like BP and Shell who will sell oil from America to the highest bidder, the "Wall Street Petroleum Institute" because Gerard and API refuse to acknowledge the role speculation plays in driving up oil prices, or the "Caymen Islands Institute", because of API's dedicated defense of tax breaks, subsidies, and other loopholes which keep oil corporations from paying their fair share.
If Gerard meant it when he said "The more transparent the discussion, the better off we'll be," he would take one of Rep. Markey's suggestions. That way the American public would know that API's attacks blaming the president for high gas prices, repeated lies about Keystone XL's affect on gas prices, or blocking rules to protect air and water from the dangers of fracking are all part of an extensive dirty energy PR campaign.
Short of re-branding his organization, Jack could at least be transparent about the amount of oil industry money he is using to influence elections through the Vote 4 Energy ad campaign. The Vote 4 Energy campaign has blanketed cable television and much of Washington DC in misleading pro-drilling, pro-fracking propaganda in an attempt to further Big Oil's political agenda by misleading voters. API wants you to vote for ExxonMobil and Shell instead of yourself.
In spite of Mr. Gerard's lip service to "transparent discussion," when we repeatedly asked him how much oil money he is using to influence the upcoming election with Vote 4 Energy propaganda, he didn't want to be part of the discussion. If Mr. Gerard is so proud of the ad campaign, why won't he talk about how much of API's $200 million budget is going toward Vote 4 Energy?
Gerard photo credit: Houston Chronicle
The annual State of the Union address is political theater at its best--millions of Americans tune in to watch the big wigs schmooze, applaud the President in partisan waves and reveal the administration's platform for the rest of the year. Entertaining as it can be, the State of the Union also gives frustrating examples of who is successfully framing the national debates in our country. This year it was obvious that Big Oil, particularly the American Petroleum Institute (API), is forcing the U.S. to adopt it's narrow idea of America's "energy future."
In fact, the President of the United States sounded a lot like the self-appointed President of U.S. Energy--API president and CEO Jack Gerard. Compare one of Jack Gerard's key talking points from his recent "State of American Energy" address with a line from Obama's State of the Union speech last night (emphasis added):
GERARD: "We need all of our resources—oil and natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, biofuels and more."
OBAMA: "This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy - a strategy that's cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs."
It appears that, after repeated circulation among oil lobbyists and their apologists in Congress, President Obama has bought into this "all of the above" nonsense, an empty rhetorical gesture designed to keep our country dependent upon dirty energy like synthetic tar sands crude oil and gas obtained through controversial hydraulic fracturing. The "all of the above" line has been promoted on the websites of the American Petroleum Institute as well as API's "Energy Tomorrow" blog, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers website and among members of Congress.
What Big Oil really means is that they'll continue to wave the carrot of clean energy in our faces as they push aggressively for increased oil and gas projects, subsidies and profits. This agenda infiltrates our government through the millions spent on Congressional campaign contributions and millions more on federal lobbying, and infiltrates the American public through expensive advertising campaigns like API's new "Vote 4 Energy" commercials. See Greenpeace's mock Vote 4 Energy commercial at the bottom of the blog.
While I'm sure Gerard and other oil lobbyists are thrilled with the results of their mass media campaigns and federal influence peddling, you can be their public response to the President's speech will be less appreciative.
Dirty energy lobbyists like Jack Gerard aren't going to stop harassing President Obama even if his administration "opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration." It will never be enough for Big Oil, which is why it's alarming that the President just bowed to two of the American Petroleum Institute's three major demands: opening up "75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources," which spells inevitable doom for our coastlines, and pushing dangerous gas fracking forward despite the inability for state regulators and the Environmental Protection Agency to keep up with the industry's voracious appetite. API and it's Big Oil members aren't going to stop griping over the rejected Keystone XL tar sands pipeline because of these concessions--they will continue to demonize Obama's cabinet as a perpetual obstruction to "freedom" and "prosperity" and bombard us all with inflated jobs claims cooked up by their own reports. Congressional Republicans are already demanding more in response to Obama's energy plan despite it's destructive concessions, repeating the "all of the above" line in the process.
These criticisms are not to say that the President got it all wrong on his energy ambitions. His statements on prioritizing clean energy development and investing in widespread energy efficiency are crucial to the reduction of greenhouse gas concentration in our atmosphere as well as securing our energy infrastructure, creating space for newer, safer jobs while reducing unnecessary risks like deadly air pollution from refineries and unstoppable oil spills started by foreign companies like BP.
Without making the connection to the oil industry (and every other large industry meddling in federal policies), President Obama mentioned the "corrosive influence of money in politics." The oil industry has spent over $55.7 million on federal politicians in the last five years and an additional $651 million on federal lobbying in the same timeframe. Activist leader and scholar Bill McKibben notes that the 234 House Representatives who voted last December to fast track the Keystone XL pipeline took $42 million from the fossil fuel industry, while the 193 opposing members took a cumulative $8 million.
If that's not corrosive influence, then I don't know what is.
Vote 4 Energy mock commercial:
Two days ago, President Obama denied the permit for the destructive Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, much to the dismay of Big Oil's top lobbyist and propagandist. Speaking at the National Press Club to an audience dominated by oil, coal and nuclear representatives and lobbyists, American Petroleum Institute (API) president Jack Gerard continued to lash out at President Obama over the pipeline decision. However, activists attending their event fact checked Jack's big oil talking points.
Shortly after asking the president, "what are you thinking?!" a group of activists stood and delivered a call-and-response "fact check" over Gerard's speech -- see the full Fact Check video. After the event, PolluterWatch's Connor Gibson approached Jack Gerard on camera and repeatedly asked him how much the American Petroleum Institute (API) is spending on its new "Vote 4 Energy" advertising campaign (which, as Mr. Gerard has absurdly claimed, is "not an advertising campaign"). Jack refused to answer:
Vote 4 Energy, which was mocked by a parody commercial during its public release, is the American Petroleum Institute's newest money dump to pretend that most Americans support politicians who represent Big Oil more than their own constituents. Wrapping its talking points in patriotic rhetoric, API's real intent is to continue getting billions of taxpayer dollars each year to corporations like ExxonMobil, Shell and Chevron, which rank among the most profitable companies in the world.
January 21st marks the two year anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee, the landmark Supreme Court case that removed limits on election spending by corporations and other moneyed interests, overthrowing 100 years of election laws.
The Citizens United case has already begun affecting elections. Spending on political television ads funded by anonymous donors is already five times what it was during the entire Republican primary season four years ago, according to estimates from Kantar Media/CMAG.
An example of the kind of propaganda corporate polluters are flooding the airwaves with - thanks to Citizens United – is the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) new election cycle ad campaign, released last week.
The new advertising campaign is an attempt to hoodwink Americans into supporting Big Oil’s political agenda by faking grassroots support for the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking, and offshore arctic drilling. Now that the Supreme Court has decided API can use Big Oil’s millions to influence elections, API, the Chamber of Commerce, and other industry fronts can relentlessly attack candidates that don't support the fossil fuel industry’s political agenda.
Greenpeace caught API in the act of creating this Astroturf campaign, when activists responded to a leaked casting email that invited “real people not actors” to share their views on energy. When the activists showed up to the shoot, API tried to use them as puppets, feeding them lines and strictly controlling what people could say on camera.
It is up to the people of America to beat back this corporate takeover of our government. As the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision approaches, a growing and diverse movement has been building to pursue the only remedy that can overcome the entrenched Supreme Court majority’s distortion of the First Amendment: amending the Constitution to reverse Citizens United and broadly ensure free and fair elections, uncorrupted by excessive corporate influence.
We need to tell corporate manipulators this is not over. Demand your right to democracy for the people and by the people by joining one of the many actions taking place to mark the anniversary of Citizens United, starting January 19. The People for the American Way have set up a website that can connect you to an event in your area. There are hundreds of events across the nation so get involved!!
Those interested in how pro-corporate forces have plotted to hijack democracy for more than three decades, check out the report on the Powell Memorandum, a blueprint for corporate takeover of democracy written by former Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell.
Today, the American Petroleum Institute unveiled its 2012 Vote 4 Energy astroturf campaign, centered around a major election-linked CNN advertising package that PolluterWatch helped expose last month with audio recordings from inside the studio. Vote 4 Energy attempts to show 'real Americans' who are 'energy voters,' meaning they are committing to vote for whichever politicians support Big Oil's dirty agenda in this election year. Typical. API also bought the back page of the A section of the Washington Post with a Vote 4 Energy ad, space that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to normal people.
Anticipating this new misinformation campaign, PolluterWatch created a mock commercial to show how API and it's oil company members (Exxon, BP, Shell, Chevron and all the usual suspects) have to fake citizen support for the oil industry:
The American Petroleum Institute (API) is Big Oil's top lobbying firm, using a $200 million budget to push dirty energy incentives and tax handouts for oil companies into our national laws. They have been caught in the past staging rallies for their Energy Citizens astroturf campaign, as revealed by Greenpeace in a confidential API memo to oil executives. Why do they fake citizen support? Probably because Americans overwhelmingly support clean energy over dirty oil development.
Knowing that API is rolling out the astroturf on cable TV, we decided to roll out actual astroturf at the location of their press conference today, literally making attendees walk down a long astroturf 'green carpet' shrouded by Big Oil logos as they entered the event. The K St lobbyists seemed downright confused by seeing the corporate logos that are normally invisible at API events.
Inside, API CEO Jack Gerard announced the campaign and promoted dirty energy development like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in his "State of American Energy" address. Apparently Jack thinks he's the President of United States of Energy, I thought he was just an oil lobbyist. Reporters leaving the session spoke about how bogus the event was--same old same old from Jack.
Jack Gerard may want to trick Americans into his Vote 4 Energy nonsense, but he demonstrates the same predictable rhetoric that oil companies always use to make themselves sound somewhat responsible, when everyone knows they aren't--see our profiles for ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, all multi-billion dollar corporations, making record profits even in a global recession, and looking for more tax breaks and handouts. If you are watching election coverage on CNN and spot API's astroturf ad, don't buy the lie. Vote for yourself, not oil executives.