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Oops! CEO of Corporate Front Network Lied to Reporters - State Policy Network

State Policy Network CEO Tracie Sharp

Last week, the Center for Media and Democracy and ProgressNow released a series of reports on how the State Policy Network coordinates an agenda carried out by affiliate "Stink Tanks" in all 50 states. Responding to questions from reporters, SPN's CEO Tracie Sharp demanded that each of the seemingly independent groups were "fiercely independent."

But Jane Mayer at the New Yorker reports Tracie Sharp said the opposite to attendees of SPN's recent annual meeting. In Oklahoma City last September, Ms. Sharp plainly told her associates how to coordinate a broad agenda and pander directly to the interests of billionaire funders like the Koch brothers and the Searle family for grants:

Sharp went on to say that, like IKEA, the central organization would provide “the raw materials” along with the “services” needed to assemble the products. Rather than acting like passive customers who buy finished products, she wanted each state group to show the enterprise and creativity needed to assemble the parts in their home states. “Pick what you need,” she said, “and customize it for what works best for you.” During the meeting,

Sharp also acknowledged privately to the members that the organization’s often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. “The grants are driven by donor intent,” she told the gathered think-tank heads. She added that, often, “the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.” She said that the donors also sometimes determined in which states their money would be spent.

Tracie Sharp responded to the New Yorker with a generic statement that didn't address her contradictory statements. And who knows if there's anything useful she could say at this point, The State Policy Network was just caught with its pants down.

For those who don't spend their days reading about the inner workings of the corporate-conservative political machine, the State Policy Network isn't a familiar name. But it's an important entity. SPN serves as the umbrella of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and all of its state and national allies pushing a coordinated corporate-friendly agenda through all 50 states.

SPN and ALEC have led the coordinated attack on clean energy in states like North Carolina, Kansas and now Ohio. Dozens of SPN groups are longtime players in the Koch-funded climate change denial movement. By orchestrating against policies to lessen global warming impacts or by directly undermining the science, SPN's efforts have ranged from urging inaction on global climate treaties and forcing teachers to misrepresent climate science to their students.

Beyond shilling for the coal, oil, gas and nuclear companies bankrolling ALEC and SPN's operations, these coordinated entities attack public employee unions, wages and pensions, block Medicaid expansion, suppress legitimate voters, push to defund and privatize schools, and undermine choice in women's health.

And who pays for SPN's work in all 50 states?

SPN's main purpose is to advance the interests of its corporate funders: dirty coal and petrochemical industries, the tobacco giants, agribusiness, pharmaceutical companies, private education firms, tech and telecom companies, and the usual web of trade associations, law firms and lobby shops paid to represent each of those industries. Corporations use SPN to advance political campaigns they are typically embarrassed to associate with publicly.

The State Policy Network also serves to advance an ideological agenda that tends to undermine the interests of most Americans in favor of those who are particularly wealthy and well-connected.

The Koch brothers fit this description, of course. But they're joined by a legion of lesser known multi-millionaires and billionaires, sometimes coordinating directly with the Kochs.

These SPN funders include Richard Mellon Scaife, Phil Anschutz, Art Pope, the Coors family, the DeVos family, the Searle family, and the remains of the Bradley family fortune, to name a few of the better known of these sources of dark money. Few citizens recognize the names of this quiet minority of political puppetmasters, but people still feel the bruise of plutocratic spending as state and national politics are pushed to new extremes.

More on the State Policy Network can be read in the National Stink Tanks report. SourceWatch has the full list of SPN members and affiliates and SPN funders.

Ohio Clean Energy still in Koch & ALEC crosshairs

Crossposted from Greenpeace’s blog: The Witness.

Ohio is currently fighting this year's final battle in a nationally-coordinated attack on clean energy standard laws, implemented by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other groups belonging to the secretive corporate front group umbrella known as the State Policy Network (SPN).

ALEC and SPN members like the Heartland Institute and Beacon Hill Institute failed in almost all of their coordinated attempts to roll back renewable portfolio standards (RPS) in over a dozen states--laws that require utilities to use more clean energy over time. After high profile battles in North Carolina and Kansas, and more subtle efforts in states like Missouri and Connecticut, Ohio remains the last state in ALEC's sites in 2013.

ALEC Playbook Guides the Attack on Ohio Clean Energy

 After Ohio Senator Kris Jordan's attempt to repeal Ohio's RPS went nowhere, ALEC board member and Ohio State Senator William Seitz is now using ALEC's new anti-RPS bills to lead another attack on the Ohio law--see Union of Concerned Scientists.

ALEC's newly-forged Renewable Energy Credit Act allows for RPS targets to be met through out-of-state renewable energy credits (RECs) rather than developing new clean energy projects within Ohio's borders. RECs have varying definitions of renewable energy depending on the region they originate from, lowering demand for the best, cleanest sources of power and electricity.

Sen. Bill Seitz's SB 58 takes advantages of existing provisions of Ohio's RPS law and tweaks other sections to mirror the key aspects of ALEC's Renewable Energy Credit Act. His RPS sneak-attack is matched by House Bill 302, introduced by ALEC member Rep. Peter Stautberg.

Just five years ago, Senator Seitz voted for Ohio's RPS law. Now, Seitz calls clean energy incentives "Stalinist."

Attacks on Ohio's Clean Energy Economy: Fueled by Dirty Energy Profits

Most of ALEC's money comes from corporations and rich people like the Koch brothers, with a tiny sliver more from its negligible legislator membership dues ($50/year). This includes oil & gas giants like ExxonMobil ($344,000, 2007-2012) and Big Oil's top lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute ($88,000, 2008-2010). Exxon and API just two of dozens of dirty energy interests paying to be in the room during ALEC's exclusive Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force meetings.

Other polluting companies bankrolling ALEC's environmental rollbacks include Ohio operating utilities like Duke Energy and American Electric Power. AEP currently chairs ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force. Some of these companies (like Duke Energy and the American Petroleum Institute) pay into a slush fund run by ALEC that allows Ohio legislators and their families to fly to ALEC events using undisclosed corporate cash (see ALEC in Ohio, p. 6).

Ohio Senator Kris Jordan used corporate money funneled through ALEC to attend ALEC events with his wife (ALEC in Ohio, p. 7). With electric utilities as his top political donors, Sen. Jordan has dutifully introduced ALEC bills to repeal renewable energy incentives (SB 34), along with other ALEC priorities like redirecting public funds for private schools (SB 88, 2011), and blocking Ohio from contracting unionized companies (SB 89, 2011).

Koch-funded Spokes & Junk Data Bolsters the ALEC Attack

The behavior of Senator Bill Seitz indicates he's more beholden to ALEC and the dirty energy utilities dumping tens of thousands of dollars into his election campaigns* than his constituents. There is support from a majority of Ohioans for utilities to obtain at least 20% of their electricity from clean sources. Ohio veterans spoke up for the RPS for increasing the state's energy security and lowing wholesale energy costs.

Rather than listening to these voices from Ohio, Senator Seitz has sided with out-of-state Koch-funded mouthpieces invited to testify against the Ohio RPS. Back in March, Seitz heard anti-RPS testimony from The Heartland Institute's James Taylor, who repeated false claims that the RPS will make electricity unaffordable.

Taylor's assertions mimicked those made in a debunked series of reports written for ALEC's RPS attacks. The Ohio anti-RPS report was co-published by the Koch-funded Beacon Hill Institute and the American Tradition Institute (ATI), sister group to the Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. ATI, now known as the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, was largely funded by Montana petroleum millionaire Doug Lair.

Senator Seitz also heard testimony from Daniel Simmons of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), who recited long-debunked statistics from the so-called "Spanish study" and "Danish study." Koch-funded groups have used these two papers for years to stifle clean energy growth in the United States. Daniel Simmons previously worked for ALEC and the Mercatus Center, which was founded by the Kochs. Heartland and the Institute for Energy Research have financial or personnel ties to the Kansas billionaire Koch brothers.

RPS and Energy Efficiency Are Helping Build Ohio's Economy

Thanks in part to energy efficiency incentives and the RPS law, Ohio's clean energy economy is expanding rapidly, with 25,000 Ohioans employed by 400 companies in the sector. Wind energy is set to expand rapidly, with the American Wind Energy Association projecting $10 billion in investments over the next decade, thanks to the RPS targeted by ALEC and its dirty companies through loyal politicians like Senator Seitz.

Not content to just weaken incentives for clean energy growth, Bill Seitz's SB 58 would also undermine energy efficiency standards, another item on ALEC's agenda. This despite a projected $2.7 billion in savings for Ohio by 2012, as directed by the efficiency and RPS laws.

No wonder ALEC got dumped by its wind and solar trade members.

----

*Since 2007, Senator Seitz has received $46,450 from coal utilities that are ALEC member companies:

  • $21,500 from American Electric Power (AEP)
  • $15,300 from Duke Energy
    • $4,800 of this bundled from Duke Employees in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana during the 2008 election cycle
  • $4,000 from NiSource
  • $3,000 from Dominion
  • $2,650 from the Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives, a member of the nation's top dirty energy lobbying heavyweight, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

If you add contributions from FirstEnergy, AES subsidiary Dayton Power & Light, and the Ohio Coal Association, Sen. Seitz's coal money since 2007 tops $66,000.

ALEC's December, 2012 meeting in Washington, DC was heavily sponsored by coal companies, including AEP, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and Edison Electric Institute, the utility trade group whose membership includes Duke Energy, AEP, NiSource, Dominion, AES and FirstEnergy.

Data aggregated by the National Institute for Money in State Politics - FollowTheMoney.org

Google Still Supporting Climate Change Deniers. Why Google, Why?

The heartland institute funded this billboard.

Yet another Google-funded organization is out promoting conspiracy theories about the threat of man-made global warming. On Monday, September 23, the Google-financed Heritage Foundation hosted hosted Heartland Institute president Joseph Bast, Willie Soon, and Bob Carter to present “Climate Change Reconsidered II,” in which they argued that the world’s scientific community have systematically overstated the dangers to humanity of unregulated carbon pollution.

Like the Heritage Foundation, the Heartland Institute, Soon, and Carter have significant funding from the fossil-fuel industry and a long record of questioning not only the economics of regulating climate pollution but the underlying science itself, as explained in our new Dealing in Doubt report

Greenpeace activists confronted Bast at Heritage after the event, asking him to reveal whether Chicago magnate Barre Seid funded the multimillion-dollar climate-denial initiative. Bast refused to answer the question.


 

Since Google’s selection of former Republican representative Susan Molinari as their chief lobbyist, the Internet giant has embraced key players in the climate-denial machine. In the last few months, Google was the top funder of the annual dinner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, famed for its “CO2: We Call It Life” ads, held a fundraiser for the re-election of Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who penned the book “The Greatest Hoax,” and was revealed to be a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has argued that “substantial global warming is likely to be of benefit to the United States.”

Google’s support of the Heritage Foundation elicited new criticism from climate scientists associated with the company.

“Their motto may be ‘don’t be evil,’ but they apparently don’t have any problem with giving it money,” climate scientist Andrew Dessler, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University, told Hill Heat in an e-mail interview.

“If you want to be a corporate leader on climate change or science education, you should fund groups to combat the anti-science garbage produced by Heritage, not the other way around,” said climate scientist Simon Donner, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, when asked for comment.

Dr. Dessler and Dr. Donner were Google Climate Science Communication Fellows in 2011. They and 15 other Fellows recently sent an open letter to the company criticizing its fundraiser for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), writing that “in the face of urgent threats like climate change, there are times where companies like Google must display moral leadership and carefully evaluate their political bedfellows.”

In a campaign led by climate accountability organization Forecast the Facts, over 150,000 people have signed petitions challenging Google’s support for climate deniers, and have staged protests in Washington DC, New York City, and Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

 
Here's a link to the Google-ALEC petition:

Climate Denial & Barre Seid: the name The Heartland Institute can't say

Drawings of Heartland Institute staff from Greenpeace's report on climate change denial, Dealing in Doubt.

Yesterday, the Heritage Foundation hosted The Heartland Institute's CEO Joseph Bast, along with two of Heartland's contracted climate denial scientists (Willie Soon and Bob Carter), to present their new report that denies the seriousness of global warming. Greenpeace was there to ask Heartland about the report's funders, including billionaire Barre Seid, and to challenge Heartland's assertion that their work has any scientific validity (it doesn't). See the video for yourself.

Heartland's "Climate Change Reconsidered," written by the usual climate denier suspects under the guise of the "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" (NIPCC) is intended to undermine new scientific findings from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Despite what Joe Bast and Heartland comms director Jim Lakely claim, their false report is not peer-reviewed, a formal process conducted by editors at actual scientific journals have other qualified scientists rigorously review and critique submitted work if it is to be approved for publication.

You'll notice that Heartland's climate denial report isn't being published in any scientific journals, but rather from Heartland itself. This is because the document is a public relations tool intended to keep politicians and the public doubting that global warming is worth addressing.

While Heartland continues politicizing science, demonizing credible scientists and using tobacco industry tactics to forge doubt over global warming, Americans are feeling the real toll climate change is already taking on society, by increasing the severity of storms like hurricane Sandy or pushing droughts, wildfires and heatwaves to new extremes.

Heartland doesn't care, or even recognize, that global warming is already costing the global economy $1.2 trillion dollars and contributing to 400,000 deaths each year. They don't care that billion-dollar weathers disasters, intensified by climate change, are on the rise and impacting the U.S. economy and our infrastructure. Nor do they accept repeated research indicating the overwhelming consensus among credential climate scientists that human fossil fuel use is the primary driver of unnatural global warming--in fact Heartland's staff have repeatedly lied to cast doubt upon that research.

Dear Greenpeace: 5 Lies from the Heartland Institute

Heartland Institute's Joseph Bast, James Taylor and contractor Craig Idso, as illustrated in Dealing in Doubt.

As we've told the Heartland Institute directly through Twitter, their response to our new report on climate change denial, Dealing in Doubt, contains a series of lies that are tellingly consistent with the lies we document in the report itself. Here are some, but not all, of the silliest claims Heartland made in their response to us:

Lie #1:

"Fact: Most scientists don’t believe the effect of human activities on climate is sufficiently well understood to make predictions about future climate conditions, and many believe the modest warming that may occur would be beneficial."

This is a sad, sad attempt to continue what Heartland does best on climate change: say anything but the truth. Without valid refutation, Heartland fully dismissed our citations of two separate peer-reviewed studies (from PNAS, 2010 and Environmental Research Letters, 2013) showing 97%-98% consensus among active climate scientists about the existence and cause of global warming. Nor did Heartland acknowledge the review of thousands of peer-reviewed papers on climate change, concluding that only 24 of 13,950 rejected global warming.

Here's the really sad part: Heartland cites a 2009 survey by Peter T. Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman that supposedly shows "most scientists do not side with Greenpeace on the issue."

Except that's not what the study concludes at all. Rather, Doran and Zimmerman found a 96-97% consensus among specialized scientists that took part in the survey who agree that the earth's temperature is rising and humans are the cause. The end of the paper specifically points out the greater understanding of climate change by scientists who took part in the survey and those without scientific expertise:

"It seems that the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes."

Heartland's other citations aren't any better. One is Heartland president Joseph Bast's "reasonable interpretation" of conclusions he'll never accept, and the rest comes from a retired TV weatherman named Anthony Watts (who's not a climate scientist), who runs the climate denier blog WattsUpWithThat. Watts was on Heartland's payroll last year for a $44,000 project to undermine climate change evidence gathered from weather stations, funded by Heartland's billionaire "anonymous donor," Barre Seid.

But this is what we expect--Heartland has always demanded legitimacy despite its inherent lack thereof.

Lie #2:

"[The Heartland Institute] has never demonized scientists who disagree with its positions, never broken the law, and never lied about any aspect of global warming ... or any other issue for that matter."

That's pretty rich for a group like Heartland...

...which experienced a "mutiny" from its entire Finance, Insurance and Real Estate department abandoned Heartland in response to its climate change denial activities (like comparing scientists with terrorists). The exodus of Heartland's Insurance company members along with many other companies blocked Heartland from raising $1.3 million from corporations in 2012.

...which faked the endorsement of the Chinese National Academy of Sciences for its ongoing pseudo-scientific "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) "Climate Change Reconsidered" reports, which we detail in Dealing in Doubt.

...which was dropped from ExxonMobil's roster, as Heartland acknowledges, for being too out-of-touch with the scientific reality of climate change--that's according to ExxonMobil!

Note also Heartland's frequent demonization of climate scientists (see bombastic slander of Michael Mann here, here, here and here, to start). Not to mention Heartland's PR and fundraising campaign to put scientist Peter Gleick in jail after its staff were foolish enough to email their internal documents to him, revealing all of their corporate and personal funders, including Chicago billionaire Barre Seid's multi-million dollar support for for Heartland's denial of global warming.

Lie #3:

"Heartland has produced more educational material on climate change than all but a handful of organizations in the world."

As reported in the Washington Post and revealed by Heartland's internal document leak, Heartland packages its scientifically untenable material on global warming into books and propaganda curricula for distribution to children and young people across the United States. Heartland has also worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to pass laws in several states that force schools to misrepresent climate change science to students.

Lie #4:

"Greenpeace used the stolen documents [the leaked documents referenced above] to target scientists who worked with Heartland, contacting the deans of universities and asking that those scientists be fired or investigated."

Greenpeace never called for anyone to be fired, but we did certainly support the investigations of professors on Heartland's climate denial payroll in response to Greenpeace's inquiries. Mainly, Arizona State University's Robert C. Balling (a recipient of grants from ExxonMobil for his work to discredit climate science) and the University of Missouri's Anthony Lupo, whose inconsistent statements denying the scope of climate change are well documented. The full text of our letters to universities can be found on our page investigating the Heartland Institute leaked documents.

Lie #5:

"Fact: NIPCC is a genuinely objective, independent, and respected voice in the climate change debate. The IPCC is none of the above."

This was an interesting assertion, our report demonstrates how the Heartland's undistinguished NIPCC is very different from real Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change--mainly that Heartland's authors are paid, unlike the IPCC scientists, and Heartland only critiques writing from climate deniers while IPCC critiques all papers submitted for consideration (see Skeptical Science).

Even more telling, the NIPCC is paid for by billionaire and climate-denial-sugar daddy Barre Seid, according to Heartland's own documents, slated to provide $194,000 of NIPCC's $304,000 budget last year. The editors of Heartland's NIPCC "Climate Change Reconsidered" (Craig Idso, Fred Singer and Bob Carter) are all well-documented as anti-science shills for fossil fuel interests.

We'll leave it at that--while we want to correct Heartland's errors, we recognize that they exist to waste people's time, run interference on honest dialog and thrive off of the attention they get by projecting their own very actions onto others (mainly: lying, manipulating reporters, lawmakers and the public, and shilling for vested interests in matters that affect the public). We cannot possibly correct all of Heartland's historic and ongoing lies: that's what its staff are paid to do and forbidden to acknowledge.

Here are our @PolluterWatch Tweets to Heartland, calling out a few of the dishonest statements in their response to Dealing in Doubt:

VIDEO: We Are All Connected - ALEC vs. Democracy

This new video from Greenpeace USA relates to our involvement in the Democracy Initiative, a coalition of groups working across issues to promote broader solutions to increase democratic participation, limit the abuse of corporate power and lessen the political influence of money.

The video features the work of ALEC--the American Legislative Exchange Council--to push a corporate agenda through state legislatures, against the wish and benefit of constituents that our State Houses are supposed to serve. It uses ALEC's Resolution in Support of the Keystone XL Pipeline as an example of how companies like TransCanada, ExxonMobil and Shell can buy access to state legislators and hand over template laws without ever having to disclose who is behind the bills. 

To this day, ALEC does not qualify as a lobbying organization to the Internal Revenue Service, even though they convene lobbyists from Fortune 500 companies or even foreign companies, craft model state laws in meetings that are off-limits to the public, and hand those template laws over to state legislators that attend the ALEC meetings.

Over 50 organizations, mostly large companies, have abandoned ALEC due to its role in controversial laws such as Stand Your Ground, voter suppression ("Voter ID") laws, aggressive rollbacks on the rights of public employees, climate change science denial and attacks on clean energy.

Koch throws ALEC under the bus to dismiss George Zimmerman funding rumor

Amid public outrage over the acquittal of George Zimmerman after the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, Koch Industries wants to clarify something: they did not finance Zimmerman's legal defense...but they did and do continue to fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which took up the NRA's Stand Your Ground law in Florida and spread it to over two dozen other states. 

Using their Koch "Facts" website, lobbyists at Koch Industries pushed back on the Zimmerman rumor and cite Snopes, a popular reference for confirming or debunking rumors. Snopes explains how Koch has backed ALEC's operations, including peddling Stand Your Ground laws that increase homocides:

"A rumor claiming that Koch was paying the legal fees of George Zimmerman, the defendant in the Trayvon Martin shooting case, and calling for a boycott of Koch-owned paper companies began to spread in mid-April 2012. This rumor appears to be tied to a combination of George Zimmerman's launching a web site soliciting donations for his lawyers and living expenses and news reports linking Koch to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative policy group "that came under attack after the Trayvon Martin shooting for pushing Stand Your Ground gun laws nationwide".

ALEC's work for Koch and other companies has resulted in a barrage of bad state policies, taken home by ALEC's member state legislators who then turn a wishlist of corporate-crafted bills into law. Koch in particular is interested in ALEC's polcies to prevent action on climate change at every opportunity, blocking accurate teaching of climate science in K-12 schools, promotion of fossil fuel extraction, attacking clean energy incentives, limiting liability for corporations when their actions harm the public, and other cynical tactics that undermine the public interest. 

Koch Industries is a member of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force. Koch lobbyist Mike Morgan sits on ALEC's national corporate board and the Koch brothers' foundations have given hundreds of thousands to ALEC's general operations, supporting a wide variety of issues including the dissemination of the NRA's Stand Your Ground laws. 49 corporations and 6 nonprofits have stopped supporting ALEC due to Stand Your Ground, Voter Suppression and other controversial policies, including Wal-Mart, the nation's largest gun retailer. Meanwhile, Koch has stood behind ALEC during controversy after controversy.

Every "fact" that Koch Industries posts comes with an invisible asterick that readers must fill in themselves. Koch uses KochFacts to intimidate, lie and bend the truth, and will continue to do so in attempts to prevent reporters and watchdogs from highlighting its bad behavior.

How ALEC and Exxon Secretly Fracked North Carolina

Former EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt speaks at an ALEC event sponsored by ExxonMobil, among other dirty energy interests and Fortune 500 companies. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson through Bill Moyers.com)

Remember that controversial law last year, legalizing fracking in North Carolina after being vetoed by the state's governor? The law bears tell-tale signs of being written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate front group with ties to the fracking industry.

Like the Exxon-backed fracking loopholes in Ohio and numerous other states, the new North Carolina law contains the same "trade secrets" provisions that ensure the public will not have the right to know which chemicals gas frackers are pumping underground to retrieve shale oil and gas. The "trade secrets" provisions are key to ALEC's model bill in order to allow Exxon, Shell, Duke Energy and other ALEC member companies to more quickly extract, pipe and burn gas without having to bother with pesky transparency laws.

Here's a list of NC ALEC legislators who co-sponsored the bill legalizing fracking: S820 or HB1052 -- the so-called "Clean Energy and Economic Security Act"

  • Sen. Tom Apodaca
  • Sen. David Rouzer -- member of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, which created the frack fluid disclosure loophole bill with internal sponsorship by ExxonMobil.
  • Rep. Mike Hager
  • Rep. Tim Moffitt
  • Rep. Fred Steen -- ALEC's State Chairman in NC

Rep. Fred Steen co-sponsored the House version of the so-called "Clean Energy and Economic Security Act." Steen was ALEC's State Chair in North Carolina, and his job is to ensure ALEC models are introduced and, ideally for ALEC, passed. Rep. Steen was the only state legislator serving as State Chair in North Carolina (other states often have multiple legislators serving as co-chairs), and according to ALEC's tax forms, his position implies the following responsibilities (emphasis mine):

State Chairmen duties shall include recruiting new members, working to ensure introduction of model legislation, suggesting task force membership, establishing state steering committees, planning issue events, and working with the Private Enterprise State Chairman to raise and oversee expenditures of legislative 'scholarship' funds.

As ALEC's state chairman in NC at the time of this vote, Rep. Steen appointed a "Private Sector Co-Chairman" to help oversee ALEC activity in NC. In this case, Rep. Steen worked with North Dakota lobbyist Joel Gilbertson, who represents clients like AIG, PhRMA, and Crop Life America (a front group for pesticide and chemical fertilizer interests). Rep. Steen was listed on ALEC's website as its State Chairman since at least late 2008, suggesting that he has been re-appointed to that position at least once--a term lasts two years.

Ironically, co-sponsoring Rep. Mike Hager has been asked about his role in ALEC before, telling the Charlotte Business Journal that, "I'm not a big fan of model legislation." Apparently, keeping toxic chemicals secret from constituents is something Rep. Hager is a big fan of, in which case ALEC models are pretty useful. Rep. Hager has received $15,500 from oil, gas and electric utility interests in this election cycle, on top of $3,250 from his first successful election bid in 2010. One of the utilities donating to Rep. Hager is Duke Energy, his former employer, which operates natural gas pipelines that deliver to over 500,000 customers and is expanding gas generation at its power plants.

North Carolina's fracking loophole law has drawn attention from around the country, including a statement of support from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The new NC law barely overturned a veto by former Gov. Beverly Perdue, in a heartbreaking twist involving one Democratic legislator being bought out at the last minute and another accidentally voting in favor of the bill and refused the opportunity to correct her vote, something that is commonly acceptable when such a mistake is made. The Charlotte Observer explains:

Rep. Becky Carney, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County who opposes fracking, pushed the wrong button and accidentally voted with Republicans to override the veto. A maneuver by Wake County Republican Paul “Skip” Stam prevented her from changing her vote, giving the GOP a historic one-vote margin of victory. "It was a huge mistake,” Carney said afterward. “I take full responsibility.” Democrats denounced Stam’s quick parliamentary maneuver as a dirty trick that resulted in the passage of a landmark energy overhaul that could create a natural gas production industry in the state. [...] Carney said it was the first time in her 10-year legislative career that she pushed the wrong button on a vote. Mistaken votes are not uncommon and letting lawmakers change their votes is routine practice in the state legislature.

This local news clip posted by the Voter's Legislative Transparency Project, which tracks ALEC activity in North Carolina, includes more on Rep. Carney's error:

Keystone Academy: Where Legislators Learn the Etiquette of Serving Special Interests

2012 ALEC Academy attendees. Photo via twitter

Written by Nick Surgey, crossposted with permission from PR Watch.

In October 2012, nine U.S. state legislators went on an industry paid trip to explore the Alberta tar sands. Publicly described as an "ALEC Academy," documents obtained by CMD show the legislators were accompanied on a chartered flight by a gaggle of oil-industry lobbyists, were served lunch by Shell Oil, dinner by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and that the expenses of the trip were paid for by TransCanada and other corporations and groups with a direct financial interest in the Alberta tar sands and the proposed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline.

Among the nine legislators on the tour was the new ALEC national chairman, Representative John Piscopo from Connecticut, and Senator Jim Smith from Nebraska who has sponsored legislation in his state to speed up the building of the Nebraska segment of KXL. Email records obtained by CMD show that after the trip, legislators were asked by ALEC to send “thank you notes” to the lobbyists for their generosity in Alberta.

Far better than a mere "thank you," Rep. John Adams from Ohio returned from the trip and sponsored a bill given to him by a TransCanada lobbyist calling for the approval of KXL. As previously reported by CMD, similar legislation, reflecting both an ALEC “model” bill and language taken from a TransCanada set of talking points, has been introduced in seven states in 2013.

The tar sands of Alberta are estimated to be the third largest reserve of crude oil on the planet. But the process of turning the tar-like bitumen into a refined product that can be used as fuel is extremely energy intensive and highly polluting. The former NASA scientist James Hansen, warned that the extraction and use of Canadian tar sands would mean "game over" for the climate. TransCanada is the operator of the proposed KXL pipeline, which would carry the tar sands to Texas for processing and likely for exports to markets abroad.

In Private Jets and "Petroleum Club" Dinners, U.S Politicians Get the Dirt on Canadian Tar Sands

Officially, ALEC organized the Alberta tour as an "ALEC Academy." In ALEC’s description of corporate sponsorship opportunities, this type of event is described as being "an intensive, two--day program for legislators that focus on a specific area of policy." It comes with an $80,000 fee to sponsor. Unofficially however, and made clear to legislators on the trip in emails from ALEC obtained by CMD, the expenses were paid for by lobbyists from the oil-industry and by the government of Alberta. In an email sent to Ohio representative John Adams ahead of the trip, ALEC staffer Karla Jones reassured participants that all transportation, accommodation costs and meals would be paid for.

According to a copy of the trip itinerary obtained via a public records request, legislators flew into Alberta on Tuesday October 16, 2012, and were met by TransCanada lobbyists who took them on a tour of their facilities in Calgary.

TransCanada, which is a member of ALEC, sponsored ALEC’s Spring Task Force Summit in Oklahoma City in May 2013, alongside other corporations with tar sands interests including BP, Devon Energy and Koch Industries. TransCanada’s Vice President Corey Goulet presented to legislators at the conference during a session called "Embracing American Energy Opportunities."

Dinner on the first night was at the up-market Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in downtown Calgary, paid for by American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM). The dinner included a presentation to the captive audience of lawmakers from AFPM about Low-Carbon Fuel Standards (LCFS), a mechanism designed to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. As CMD has reported recently, LCFS is considered a real threat to the tar sands industry, because it might restrict the U.S. market for fuels derived from the tar sands. AFPM, which has funded one of the other groups on the tour – the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) – to work to oppose LCFS legislation, would successfully sponsor an ALEC "model" bill on this issue just weeks after the trip, called "Restrictions on Participation in Low-Carbon Fuel Standards Programs."

On Wednesday morning, after breakfast at the hotel, legislators were taken to the airport where a private charted plane was waiting to fly them around a number of different tar sands operations. Accompanying the legislators and ALEC staffer Karla Jones, were lobbyists from AFPM, TransCanada, Devon Energy, CEA, Shell Oil, and the Government of Alberta. The flight was chartered by the Alberta Government, at a cost of $22,000, with the costs split evenly between them and another unknown entity.

During the day, legislators toured facilities owned by Shell – which also provided lunch – and Devon Energy, where they viewed the massive "Jackfish" tar sands projects. At these facilities, Devon utilizes Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD), an energy intensive process that injects steam into the dirty bitumen to access otherwise inaccessible deposits too deep for mining. This process is expected to open up further areas of Alberta for tar sands extraction, including by Koch Industries subsidiary Koch Exploration Canada which has a pending permit request in Alberta to utilize SAGD.

Dinner on Wednesday night was served at the Petroleum Club, sponsored by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. On the Thursday morning, just before their return flight, legislators did have a brief meeting with a representative from the Pembina Institute, an Alberta environmental group that calls for responsible exploitation of the tar sands. According to the ALEC trip itinerary, this was to "provide the opposing point of view."

Although Pembina does represent a different view from those that want completely unrestrained extraction of the tar sands, the group is not representative of those that oppose tar sands extraction. There are plenty of organizations that could have provided alternative viewpoints, particularly first nation tribes who are campaigning vigorously on this issue, but perhaps unsurprisingly they were not included. Even Pembina’s - somewhat limited - opposing voice was not wanted during the tour of the oil sands facilities, and they were not invited to the lobbyist-sponsored dinners.

ALEC as Emily Post

A month after the trip, the Director of International and Federal Relations at ALEC, Karla Jones, sent participants an email helpfully reminding them of what each industry lobbyist had paid for on the tour. CMD obtained a copy of that communication via a public records request, which included a spreadsheet containing the names, telephone numbers and mailing addresses of each of the lobbyists on the trip. The ALEC email also prompted legislators to send each of the sponsoring corporations a "thank you note."

The phenomenon of ALEC legislators sending such letters to lobbyists is something CMD has previously reported on. Ohio Rep. Adams, for example, sent at least a dozen letters to corporate lobbyists in 2010, thanking them for writing checks to the ALEC scholarship fund, which paid his and his colleagues way to an ALEC conference.

"Because of your help and others like you, the trip to ALEC was made possible for our legislators," Adams wrote to AT&T lobbyist Bob Blazer.

“Rather than sending thank you notes to their corporate lobbyist sponsors, these legislators should instead consider an apology to their constituents,” Stephen Spaulding, Staff Counsel for the good government group Common Cause told CMD. "I doubt lobbyists want thank you notes in return for bankrolling legislators' international vacations – they would rather a bright, shiny souvenir in the form of corporate-drafted legislation."

Better Than a Thank You Note, Payback in Ohio

After the trip to Alberta, Rep. Adams, the Assistant Majority Floor Leader and Ohio ALEC state chair, led the calls in Ohio for the approval of the KXL pipeline, sponsoring a bill (HCR 9) and talking publicly about the proposed pipeline. "It is of the upmost importance that we strongly urge the U.S. government to take the necessary steps towards operation of the Keystone Pipeline," Adams wrote in March 2013 while promoting his bill. Rep. Rosenberger, the other Ohio legislator on the ALEC trip to Alberta, accordingly co-sponsored the Adams bill.

According to documents CMD obtained from public record requests in Ohio, a draft bill was sent to Adams on January 23, from Steve Dimon of 21 Consulting LLC, who represents TransCanada. The bill was sent as an attachment to the Dimon email.

The email message itself simply read, "Thank you so much!"

Dimon stayed in touch with Adams' office over the proceeding months, providing his staff with further materials about Keystone XL, including a set of talking points stamped with the TransCanada logo.

By February 14, Adams had an updated draft that had been reviewed by the Ohio legislative service commission, the non-partisan body that assists legislators with drafting legislation. Adams staffer Ryan Crawford sent this language to Rob Eshenbaugh, a lobbyist with Ohio Petroleum Council, the state affiliate of the American Petroleum Institute. "Please let me know if I can be of further assistance," Crawford wrote to the lobbyist. Eshenbaugh responded with some requested changes, which Crawford then incorporated into the bill.

All this occurred prior to Adams sharing the bill with his fellow legislators, which didn't happen until February 20. Adams finally introduced his bill in the Ohio Assembly on March 9, without any public statement about his involvement with the ALEC Academy or that the source of the bill was a tar sands lobbyist.

The route of the proposed KXL pipeline takes it through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. This is a long way from Ohio, but the debate over the KXL project has become a national issue. The ALEC Academy, and subsequent lobbying from the oil-industry, demonstrates that TransCanada sees value in developing a list of states supportive of the project to influence the federal debate over KXL approval.

The precise details of the ALEC tour, including the trip being part-sponsored by TransCanada, are not mentioned in Adams’ financial disclosures, which only reports his expenses as being from ALEC and the Alberta Government. Adams is not breaking the law here. This is because of the way ALEC works to fund legislator travel. Its scholarship system allows corporations to “sponsor” legislator’s expenses, which are then simply disclosed as being a payment from "ALEC" and not from the sponsoring corporations or groups. CMD documented the ALEC scholarship fund in a 2012 report released jointly with Common Cause: "How the American Legislative Exchange Council Uses Corporate-Funded “Scholarships” to Send Lawmakers on Trips with Corporate Lobbyists."

Graduates of the Keystone Academy appear to be learning a lot about how ALEC works behind the scenes to promote special interest legislation while keeping the public entirely in the dark.

Center for Media and Democracy releases a Reporter's Guide to the "State Policy Network"

The Center for Media and Democracy has released a new report on the State Policy Network, a web of interconnected groups that attack climate change science and oppose support for renewable energy.  The new guide details the $80 million that right-wing billionaires and corporations are spending each year to fuel Tracie Sharp's State Policy Network (SPN) and its 59 state "think tank" members.

The guide, a product of a three month investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy, has found previously unreported funding for SPN flowing directly from Koch Industries, in addition to the known contributions from the Koch family foundations. CMD also tracks SPN's connections to the Koch funded Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, known as the "Dark Money ATM" for attacks on climate science.

 State Policy Network’s connections to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), are also explored in the report. According to the guide:

 "Through ALEC, SPN helps draft templates to change state laws; then ALEC's public sector and private sector members vote in secret for those bills; and then SPN supports the introduction or adoption of those bills as law, sometimes with help from David Koch's [Americans for Prosperity] AFP echo chamber in a state.”

Called the Reporters Guide to the State Policy Network, CMD’s report details how SPN works, who funds it, what the network's groups do, and looks at some of their legislative goals, including undermining workers' rights and weakening unions as well as undoing renewable energy laws and expanding ways in which tax dollars are redirected to the private sector, for example through funding so-called "virtual schools." Key resources include:

  • Documentation that exposes the close funding connections between SPN, its members, and the controversial ALEC.
  • Highlights of the significant and previously unknown Koch brothers' funding for SPN groups, demonstrating that prior estimates of Koch funding have been understated. (These materials were discovered by CMD and researchers in materials filed with the IRS by two of the SPN groups.)
  • Entries about every SPN member think tank on CMD's SourceWatch.org.

Read CMD’s Reporter’s Guide to the “State Policy Network” here.

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