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In Washington, D.C., special interests spend millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions. But the influence infrastructure reaches far beyond Capitol Hill, according to a new report by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) that calculates that the biggest trade associations have spent $1.2 billion on public relations (PR) and advertising between 2008 and 2012, to shift public opinion and pressure lawmakers.

Over the past couple of decades, special interests from the coal, oil, utilities, and other energy industries have routinely used lobbying, public relations, and other means to impact decisions that could affect their businesses. Most Americans already know that lobbying and influence play a big role in the legislative process, especially in Washington, D.C. However, this new report reveals that a large portion of trade association spending goes to PR firms and advertising.

According to the report, the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil and gas industry trade group:

“…spent more than $7 million lobbying federal officials in 2012. But that sum was dwarfed by the $85.5 million it paid to four public relations and advertising firms to, in effect, lobby the American public — including $51.9 million just to global PR giant Edelman. 

From 2008 through 2012, annual tax filings show, the API paid Edelman a staggering $327.4 million for advertising and public relations services, more than any other contractor.”  

API spent the most on public relations and advertising, but other energy-related spending brings the total for energy and natural resources associations tracked by the report to $430 million between 2008 to 2012.

In the electricity industry, the Energy & Policy Institute has tracked the utility industry’s campaign to stop solar net metering over the past two years. The Center for Public Integrity’s latest report documents that Edison Electric Institute has spent $2.8 million on public relations and advertising between 2008 through 2012. However, according to EEI’s latest filings from 2013 (not included in the CPI report), the trade association paid Edelman nearly $1.1 million for public relations or advertising support.

Furthermore, EEI spent a total of $74 million on independent contractors (including Edelman) from 2008 through 2013. EEI’s spending on contractors includes:

  • R&R Partners, which received a contract worth $500,000, is an advertising, marketing, public relations, and public affairs firm that also has Arizona Public Service, which attacked distributed solar last year, as a client.
  • Democracy, Data, & Communications, a public affairs firm that’s been exposed for astroturfing (setting up fake grassroots groups including in New York to support fracking), received over $500,000 and also had a contract of nearly $300,000 from API in 2012 and 2013.
  • GC Strategic Advocacy (now known as Goddard Gunster), a public relations firm that claims to be “the most successful issue advocacy firm in America”, had a contract totaling $1.6 million in 2008 and 2009.

See a detailed breakdown of EEI’s spending below.

As the spending exemplifies, EEI is working to influence public opinion and policy through public relations and public affairs campaigns. In 2013, we uncovered that EEI worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to distribute a model bill targeting net metering and distributed solar energy as the first assault in EEI’s long-term strategy to address business competition from solar. EEI’s Vice President for Political and External Affairs, Brian McCormick, “worked with [ALEC] on the resolution” attacking net metering while EEI sponsored ALEC’s 2012 States and Policy Summit for $20,000 and spent an additional $39,667 on ALEC in 2013.

EEI is also pursuing an advocacy strategy that seeks to influence key political groups across the spectrum. According to our analysis of the trade associations tax forms, EEI spent $570,000 to fund Governors’ Associations and other political associations of state government leaders from both political parties.

And, EEI funded over 150 non-profits and political groups, many (but not all) of which work with specific constituencies. In total, the organization spent nearly $5 million dollars in the six years tracked by the Energy and Policy Institute. However, spending on these non-profit and constituency groups has increased in recent years, from an average of $500,000 in 2008-2011 to $1 million in 2012 and $1.8 million in 2013. The list of organizations that EEI has contributed to includes the American Legislative Exchange Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Coal Utilization Research Council. See the full breakdown of spending below.

EEI’s public relations and advocacy playbook looks a lot like the actions taken by tobacco companies to deny the health impacts of smoking or fossil fuel companies to deny that climate change is a problem. Since the utility trade association released their report, “Disruptive Challenges”, on the threat of distributed solar energy in January 2013, EEI has launched a full-scale campaign against solar power. The utility trade group has spread misinformation that solar energy will cost non-solar users, despite reports in CaliforniaMississippi, and Nevada showing that solar energy saves money for all ratepayers by avoiding the costs of building big power plants and additional transmission lines.

In the upcoming documentary, Merchants of Doubt, based on the book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik ConwayRobert Kenner (Director of Food Inc.) details a familiar story of special interests injecting uncertainty into the public debate to protect their markets. The tobacco, chemical, and fossil fuel industries have all used the “doubt playbook” to delay action on public health and environmental issues like second hand smoke, the ozone hole, and climate change. Now the utility industry seems to be using similar PR and public affairs tactics to attack solar as expensive or bad for ratepayers when the evidence shows that solar energy delivers economic benefits.

Details on EEI’s Spending
Edison Electric Institute 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 Total
Independent Contractors
Hunton & Williams 7,589,636 7,706,867 7,433,283 8,780,353 8,809,433 8,158,767 48,478,339
Venable LLP 2,085,992 2,014,274 3,301,688 2,543,419 2,398,710 2,922,429 15,266,512
GC Strategic Advocacy 1,100,597 543,940 1,644,537
OCE Business Services 649,139 503,025 474,172 589,460 2,215,796
Human Resources Research Organization 474,524 474,524
Skadden Arps 829,728 829,728
ICF Resources 463,415 465,056 928,471
Winston & Strawn LLP 516,056 516,056
Daniel J Edelman 683,183 1,091,122 1,774,305
Democracy Data & Communications 548,163 548,163
Cromwell & Moring LLP 324,887 324,887
CRA International 759,469 759,469
R&R Partners 515,811 515,811
Chertoff Group 373,956 373,956
Total 12,184,833 11,242,630 12,502,286 12,894,344 12,764,376 13,062,085 74,650,554
Political Organizations
Democratic Governor’s Association 25,000 25,000 25,000 15,000 40,000 130,000
Democratic Attorneys General 25,000 25,000 25,000 15,000 90,000
Democratic Leadership Council 25,000 25,000
Republican Governors Association 15,000 15,000 25,000 55,000
Republican Mayor’s and Local 10,000 10,000 5,000 25,000
Republican State Leadership Committee 50,000 50,000 55,000 75,000 230,000
Republican Attorneys General 15,000 15,000
Total 60,000 75,000 120,000 75,000 85,000 155,000 570,000
Grants to Organizations in the US
A Celebration of Chicago 10,000 10,000
American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) 25,000 10,000 25,000 25,000 10,000 95,000
ACCF – Center for Policy Research 15,000 30,000 15,000 15,000 30,000 30,000 135,000
All Hazards Consortium 18,750 18,750
Alliance to Save Energy 20,000 31,000 5,000 20,000 47,500 123,500
ASAE Center for Association Leadership 10,500 15,000 25,500
American Legislative Exchange Council 10,000 20,000 39,667 69,667
American National Standards 5,945 5,945
Annapolis Center 20,000 20,000 40,000
Apple Tree Institute 5,821 5,821
ASEA – Center for Association Leadership 10,000 10,000
Aspen Institute 10,000 10,000 10,000 7,400 10,000 12,000 59,400
Atlanta Habitat for Humanity 5,000 5,000
Atlantic Council of US 5,000 5,000
Banneker Institute Project of Catalyst 5,000 5,000
Barnes and Thornburg Water Quality Coalition 17,500 17,500 35,000
Bipartisan Policy Center 100,000 100,000
Building and Construction Trades Department 5,000 15,000 10,000 30,000
California State Society of Washington DC 7,500 7,500
Campaign for Home Energy Assistance 15,000 15,000 15,000 15,000 15,000 75,000
Capital Area Reach Program 5,000 11,000 16,000
CBC Institute 10,000 10,000
Center for Automotive Research Victors Way 5,000 5,000
Center for Energy Workforce Development 105,000 140,000 105,000 105,000 105,000 105,000 665,000
Center for Legislative Energy and Environmental Research 5,000 8,000 13,000
Children’s Charities Foundation 10,500 10,500
Coal Utilization Research Council 20,000 20,000
Coalition for a Fiscally Sound America 25,000 25,000
Coalition for Tax Equity 12,000 12,000
Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow 8,000 8,000
Communications Institute 25,000 25,000
Communities Foundation of Oklahoma 10,000 10,000
Congressional Management Foundation 10,000 10,000
Congressional Baseball Game 5,000 7,500 7,500 10,000 30,000
Congressional Black Caucus Foundation 10,000 20,400 10,000 10,000 10,000 20,000 80,400
Congressional Black Caucus Institute 10,000 10,000 10,000 5,000 5,000 40,000
Consortium of Catholic Academies 5,000 5,000 10,000 20,000
Council of Great Lakes Industries 15,000 15,000 30,000
Council of State Governments 6,000 6,000
Creative Coalition 90,000 90,000
Cure Dues 6,250 25,000 31,250
Detroit Public Television 37,500 37,500
Earth Island Institute 5,000 5,000
Edison Innovation Foundation 5,000 5,000
Electric Drive Transportation 12,500 15,000 30,000 57,500
Electrical Safety Foundation International 5,000 5,000 5,000 15,000
Emerging Issues Policy Forum 15,000 15,000
Energy Resources and Environment Program 5,000 5,000
Environmental Council of the States 5,000 5,000 10,000
Faith and Politics Institute 5,000 5,000
Fight for Children INC 5,000 5,000
First Tee 5,000 5,000
Foundation to Eradicate Duchenne 5,000 5,000
George W. Bush Presidential Center 10,000 15,000 25,000
Global Energy and Environment Initiative 5,000 5,000
Hawks Aloft 5,000 5,000
Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government 25,000 25,000 50,000
Hispanics in Energy 10,000 10,000
Horton’s Kids 10,000 15,000 25,000
Hunton & Williams LLP 116,114 116,114
Institute for Education 10,000 5,000 15,000
John Hopkins University 5,000 10,000 15,000
Joint Center for Political and Economical Studies 15,000 15,000 15,000 45,000
Keystone Center 20,000 10,000 20,000 10,500 10,000 25,000 95,500
Labor and Management Public Affairs Committee Midwest 5,000 5,000
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights 5,000 10,000 10,000 10,000 10,000 45,000
Leadership Greater Washington 5,000 5,000
MACRUC 6,475 15,000 21,475
Magnum Entertainment Group 12,500 12,500
March of Dimes Foundation 25,000 25,000
Meridian International Center 10,000 10,000
Michigan State Society 5,000 5,000
Mid-American Regulatory Conference 5,000 5,000
Mideast Labor Management Public Affairs 5,000 5,000
Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance 5,000 5,000
Midwest Governors Association 7,500 7,500
Midwest Legislative Conference 5,000 5,000
National Association of Neighborhoods 5,000 5,000
National Association of Latino Elected Officials 25,000 25,000
National Black Chamber of Commerce 15,000 10,000 25,000
National Black Caucus of State Legislators 10,000 10,000
National Capital Area Council Boy Scouts 6,500 6,500
National Conference of Black Mayors 15,000 10,000 10,000 35,000
National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) 7,500 20,833 12,473 5,000 12,500 58,306
National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition 10,000 10,000
National Forest Foundation 5,000 5,000
National Fuel Funds Network 5,000 5,000 10,000 5,000 25,000
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices 75,000 75,000
National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators 25,000 15,000 40,000
National Hispanic Environmental Council 15,000 15,000
National Labor College 5,000 5,000
National Labor and Management Public Affairs Committee (LAMPAC) 40,332 49,500 36,258 57,389 183,479
National Multiple Sclerosis 5,000 13,000 12,000 26,000 10,000 66,000
National Organization of Black County Officials 5,000 5,000
National Energy Resources Organization 6,125 6,150 12,275
National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women 15,000 15,000
National Policy Alliance 7,500 10,000 17,500
National Safety Council 5,000 5,000
New Jersey State Society of the District 7,500 7,500
New Mexico State Society 5,000 5,000
NERO 5,650 5,650
North American Energy Standards Board 7,000 7,000
National Metals Council 7,000 7,000
PHI Community Foundation 5,000 5,000 5,000 5,000 20,000
Pollinator Partnership 5,000 5,000
Points of Light Institute 5,000 5,000
POLITICO 85,000 85,000
Pollinator Partnership 10,000 5,000 15,000
Prevent Cancer Foundation 10,000 10,000 10,000 30,000
Presidential Inaugural Committee 85,000 85,000
Resources for the Future 10,000 10,000 15,000 35,000
Roosevelt Institute 10,000 10,000 20,000
Securing America’s Future Energy 5,000 5,000
Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association 20,000 20,000
Senate Presidents’ Forum 27,000 27,000
SCE Rivergrade Victims Fund 5,000 5,000
So Others Might Eat 5,000 5,000 10,000
Social Enterprises Inc 7,500 7,500
Southeast Labor and Management Public Affairs Committee 5,000 5,000
Southern States Energy Board 7,500 5,000 12,500
Southern Legislative Conference 5,000 5,000
State Government Leadership Foundation 15,000 15,000
State Legislative Leaders Foundation 10,000 10,000 20,000
Taste of the South 15,000 15,000 10,000 5,000 5,000 50,000
Texas Society of Washington 30,000 30,000
The Artists & Athletes 10,000 10,000
The Congressional Institute 25,000 25,000
The Children’s Charities 7,500 7,500
The Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute 10,000 10,000
The Hastert College at Wheaton College 5,000 5,000
The Salvation Army 5,000 5,000
Third Way 25,000 50,000 25,000 100,000
USHCC 15,000 15,000
Thomas Alva Edison Foundation 65,604 303,000 87,000 455,604
Transportation Energy Partnership 7,500 7,500
Tree Fund 5,000 5,000
US Chamber of Commerce 50,000 25,050 75,050
United States Energy Association 5,000 5,000 10,000
United Way National Capital 5,000 5,000 10,000
Urban Alliance 20,000 20,000
US Navy Memorial Foundation 20,000 5,500 5,000 20,000 50,500
USHCC 10,000 10,000
Utilities Telecom Council 5,000 5,000
Utility Arborist Association 10,000 5,000 15,000
Volta Live 10,000 10,000
Washington Tennis & Education 10,000 10,000
Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 5,000 5,000
Western Governors’ Association 5,000 10,000 10,000 10,000 35,000
Western Lampac 12,000 16,000 13,000 41,000
Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment 5,000 5,000 10,000
Women in Government 10,000 10,000
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars 10,000 10,000
World Conference of Mayors 5,000 10,000 15,000
Total 503,332 515,025 387,483 681,977 1,041,954 1,796,915 4,926,686

 

 

Posted by Gabe Elsner

Gabe Elsner is the founder and executive director of the Energy & Policy Institute. He is a thought leader on defending policies from attacks by incumbent energy interests and his work has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg, The Daily Mail, The Australian, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, and National Public Radio. The Energy & Policy Institute’s work has protected dozens of public policies that support the growth of the clean-tech industry.

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