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Fracking Lobby’s Tax Forms: Big Bucks to Media, “Other ALECs,” Democratic PR Firms

12:07 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA)- the public relations arm of the oil and gas fracking industry – has released its 2012 Internal Revenue Services (IRS) 990 form, and it’s rich with eye-opening revelations, some of which we report here for the first time.

Incorporated as American Natural Gas Alliance, Inc., ANGA received $76.7 million from its dues-paying members for fiscal year 2012. Not strictly a lobbying force alone at the state-level and federal-level, ANGA has pumped millions of dollars into public relations and advertising efforts around the country and hundreds of thousands more into other influence-peddling avenues.

The Nation Magazine‘s Lee Fang revealed in a recent piece that ANGA gave $1 million in funding to Truthland, a pro-fracking film released to fend off Josh Fox’s Gasland: Part II.

On its website, Truthland says it is a project of both industry front group Energy in Depth and the trade association, Independent Petroleum Association of America. The Truthland website was originally registered in Chesapeake Energy’s office, Little Sis revealed.

Fang also revealed ANGA gave $25,000 to “ASGK Strategies, a political consulting firm founded by White House advisor David Axelrod,” as well as “$864,673 to Edventures Partners, an education curriculum company that has partnered with ANGA to produce classroom materials that promote the use of natural gas.”

In his piece, Fang also points out ANGA has given millions of dollars to Democratic Party-affiliated PR firms, perhaps unsurprising given its new CEO is Martin “Marty” Durbin, nephew of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the U.S. Senate’s Majority Whip.

“The 990 shows that ANGA paid the Glover Park Group over $2.9 million for ‘research/advertising’ and Dewey Square Group $738,957 for ‘grassroots communications.,’” wrote Fang. “Both firms are run by mostly former Clinton administration officials.” ANGA donated another $6,500 to Dewey Square for general operational support.

Donations to Media Outlets

ANGA also gave big to media outlets, a DeSmog review of the 990 reveals. It doled out $165,000 to The Texas Tribune, $100,000 to Bloomberg Businessweek, $50,000 to National Journal and another $25,000 to the Environmental Media Association, co-founded by Norman Lear, also the co-founder of the liberal group People For the American Way.

Departing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg – owner and namesake of Bloomberg Businessweek – is also a major financial supporter of fracking, giving $6 million to the Environmental Defense Fund in August 2012 to promote “responsible regulation” in 14 states. He also gave money to EDF’s recently-published controversial fracking climate study.

ANGA also recently became a founding partner of MSNBC.com‘s newly launched website, on whose platform it will regularly publish “native advertisements,” sometimes also referred to as “branded content.” Axelrod – whose PR firm also gets money from ANGA - works as a paid senior political analyst for MSNBC and NBC.

Bipartisanship, Attacks on Renewables, Money to Green Group

One thing is crystal clear in ANGA’s 990 forms: they “buypartisan.” That is, they donate money to both sides of the political aisle, although the bulk of the dollars flows to the right.

ANGA donated $25,000 to the Democratic Attorneys General Association, while giving nine times as much to the Republican Governors Association to the tune of $225,000. It then tossed another $200,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee, throwing $25,000 more to Third Way, a think-tank of sorts of the corporate Blue Dog Democrats.

Not content with its vast market share of the U.S. utilities market, ANGA gave $100,000 to the “Care for Michigan Coalition,” an industry-funded nonprofit created to defeat Michigan’s Proposal 3 in the November 2012 elections. Proposal 3 would have mandated 25-percent of Michigan’s energy portfolio come from renewable energy sources by 2025, known by energy policy wonks as 25×25.

Other major Care for Michigan Coalition donors included Warren Buffett’s BNSF (whose trains carry vast amounts of frac sand and oil fracked from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale), DTE Energy, CMS Energy and the Michigan Manufacturers’ Association.

ANGA didn’t limit its patronage to sworn enemies of renewable energy, though. It also handed $30,000 to the Texas League of Conservation Voters.

Donations to “Other ALECs”

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Corporate Interests Influencing State Legislators via National Conference of State Legislatures

11:35 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Fracking sign

Cross-Posted from Checks and Balances Project

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) describes itself as “a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the nation’s 50 states, its commonwealths and territories.  NCSL provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues.”

Affiliated with NCSL, is the NCSL Foundation which was created by NCSL as a  “nonprofit tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation that offers opportunities for businesses, national associations, nonprofit organizations and unions seeking to improve the state legislative process and enhance NCSL’s services to all legislatures.”

While the descriptions sound benign, the access to legislators NCSL and the NCSL Foundation provide to fossil fuel interests and other corporate “sponsors” sounds a lot like lobbying. Sourcewatch defines lobbyists as those who do “work on the behalf of their clients or the groups they’re representing to convince the government or others involved in public policy development to make a decision that is beneficial to them.”

Nowhere in the descriptions of NCSL or the NCSL Foundation is the unique access to state legislators granted to corporate funders characterized as lobbying.

In fact, William Pound, NCSL’s Executive Director, said in an interview with Checks & Balances Project at NCSL’s 2012 Fall Forum in Washington, D.C., that legislators are being educated, not lobbied.

However, this access has been called “stealth lobbying” by Steve Horn and Sarah Blaskey in a recent Truthout piece.

According to the NCSL Foundation website, there are many ways for fossil fuel interests to “educate” state legislators. They include:

  • Opportunity to participate in the annual standing committee new officer orientation session
  • Regular forums with NCSL officers and NCSL standing committee officers
  • Opportunity to suggest topics to standing committee officers
  • Opportunity to attend NCSL Executive Committee subcommittee meetings
  • Invitations to attend receptions and dinners with legislative leaders at yearly NCSL leadership meetings

In addition, with legislators from 40 out of the 50 states earning an average of $35,326 for their work and an average staff of 3.1 per member (or 1.2 staff in some states),[1] it raises questions of how much time and resources they have to research issues versus relying on positions posted by corporate sponsors or NCSL papers which corporate sponsors have had input on, according to Pound.

Given the role of Michael Behm as the Vice President of the NCSL Foundation and a Senior Vice President for Stateside Associates, a lobbying firm focused on lobbying state-centric groups like NCSL and the Council of State Governments (CSG), the partnerships being enabled by NCSL between legislators and fossil fuel interests should not be surprising.[2] This is especially true, given that many of Stateside Associates’ clients are also NCSL Foundations sponsors.

According to the current list of sponsors on the NCSL Foundation website (dated 1/31/12), fossil fuel interests such as ExxonMobil and America’s Natural Gas Alliance contributed $142,500, an increase from FY 2011 (July 2010-June 2011) when fossil fuel companies donated $100,000[3].

Perhaps the increase in contributions from fossil fuel interests, coupled with their ability to  “review” NCSL policy papers, explains the change in positions on hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) between 2010 and 2012. A 2010 policy paper provided a relatively balanced look at the costs, financial and environmental, associated with fracking. However, a June 2012 paper raises and dismisses the potentially devastating costs that fracking poses to states and the environment.

NCSL’s activities sound suspiciously like those of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is now facing a lawsuit under the Tax Whistleblower Act with the Internal Revenue Service. Common Cause filed the lawsuitafter accusing ALEC, legally a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, of “massive[ly] underreporting” the amount of lobbying it was undertaking.

While 501(c)(3)’s can engage in some lobbying, it cannot be the majority of its activity. According to Mother Jones, “The suit alleges that ALEC exists primarily to give corporate members the ability to ‘lobby state legislators and to deduct the costs of such efforts as charitable contributions.’ “

Checks and Balances will continue monitoring NCSL and other like-minded organizations that interact with legislators for purported “educational” purposes that could possibly be masking stealth lobbying activities.


[2] Horn and Blaskey write in their Truthout piece about how Behm and his other Stateside Associates colleagues take over organizations such as NCSL to influence state legislators on behalf of corporate interests.

[3] No figures were listed in the FY 2011 annual report. Therefore current sponsorship level amounts were applied to derive the $117,500 number.

Image by Bosc D’Anjou under Creative Commons License.