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“Our Energy Moment:” The Blue Engine Behind Fracked Gas Exports PR Blitz

11:52 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

Our Energy Moment log

Blue Engine Media’s pro-fracking moment

Behind nearly every major corporate policy push there’s an accompanying well-coordinated public relations and propaganda campaign. As it turns out, the oil and gas industry’s push to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) plays the same game.

And so on February 5, “Our Energy Moment” was born. The PR blitz is described in a press release announcing the launch as a “new coalition dedicated to raising awareness and celebrating the many benefits of expanded markets for liquefied natural gas.”

Its member list includes industry heavy hitters such as Cheniere Energy, Sempra Energy, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association and Freeport LNG.

Since its launch, “Our Energy Moment” has disseminated press releases about theU.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) conditional approval of Jordan Cove LNGexport facility in Coos Bay, Oregon and its conditional approval of Cameron LNG export facility in Hackberry, Louisiana.

So the industry is funding a PR campaign clearly in its self interest. But so what? You have to read all the way to the bottom of the press releases to find what’s perhaps the most interesting tidbit.

At the very bottom of “Our Energy Moment’s” releases, a contact person named Tiffany Edwards is listed with an email address ending in @blueenginemedia.com. If you visit blueenginemedia.com you’ll find the website for PR and advertising firm Blue Engine Message & Media.

Further, a domain name search for ourenergymoment.org reveals the website was registered by another PR and web development firm called Liberty Concepts by its founder and president Jonathan Karush. Karush registered the site on May 8, 2013, a full ten months before the campaign’s official launch date.

Who are these firms and why do they matter? That’s where the fun begins.

Blue Engine Media

According to its website, Blue Engine helps “develop and implement strategic public policy campaign plans for corporations, coalitions, non-profits and national trade associations, particularly when reputation, brand or market position face a threat or opportunity.”

Clients past and present include Citibank, Ford, Delta, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions and Obama for President in 2008 and 2012, among others.

The firm was founded by Erik Smith — self-described “recovering political hack & aspiring corporate hack“ — served as senior advisor for advertising and message development for President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns and former Communications Director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Smith also founded and helped coordinate the Common Purpose Project, set up to “discuss White House plans, priorities, and messages with [progressive] groups,” according to Mother Jones’ David Corn. “But some of the outside participants considered the meetings mostly sessions where the administration tossed out talking points and marching orders.”

Common Purpose has received strong criticism from both investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill and founder of FireDogLakeJane Hamsher.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 990 tax forms show Common Purpose was run out of Blue Media’s office as of 2012 (the phone number listed on its IRS 990 formsmatches the one listed on Blue Engine’s website, as well) and Erik Smith received over $1.3 million between 2009 and 2012 to work on this account.

Other Blue Engine luminaries include:

  • Adam Abrams: The former regional communications director and spokesperson for President Barack Obama, Abrams was also on the communications team at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and sat on the communications staff for both the Obama 2008 and John Kerry 2004 presidential campaigns.
  • Amber McDowell and Jacob Sittig: McDowell formerly served as Communications Director for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the new head of theU.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Sittig was Landrieu’s former Deputy Press Secretary.
  • Jessica Borchert: Borchert worked on the Obama 2012 campaign. In that capacity, she did “production of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina and [worked] on the ground in Colorado coordinating press operations.”
  • Catherine Lavelle: Lavelle worked on the Obama for President team in 2012 and also was the Media Logistics Manager for the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Further, Laura Burton Capps — former Assistant to George Stephanopoulos in the Bill Clinton White House and speechwriter for Clinton — was a Blue Engine principal until 2013. Capps also formerly worked on the staff for the Common Purpose Project and is listed as the principal officer on its 2011 IRS 990 form.

Laura Capps is married to Bill Burton, former Deputy Press Secretary for Obama and co-founder of Priorities USA, a “dark money” Democratic Super-PAC set up to compete with Republican “dark money” Super-PAC Crossroads GPS.

And then there’s Tiffany Edwards, the point person for the “Our Energy Moment” file and where this whole inquiry began.

Before coming to Blue Engine, Edwards served as Deputy Press Secretary at the Department of Energy — the agency with final legal decisionmaking power overLNG export proposals — for the first two years of the Obama Administration. Prior to that, she worked for the 2008 Obama campaign’s press staff in the Chicago headquarters.

Roll Call reported she was hired on February 3, meaning “Our Energy Moment” was likely the first file on her Blue Engine account. Edwards hasn’t responded to questions sent to her via email by DeSmogBlog.

Liberty Concepts

Like Blue Engine, Liberty Concepts maintains tight ties with the Democratic Party and groups with close ties to the party, describing itself as a “full service digital communications agency that specializes in helping create brands and develop online communities around them.”

Read the rest of this entry →

BuyPartisan Consensus: ExxonMobil Donates $260,000 to Obama Inauguration

7:21 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

"Why do Big Oil, Gas and Coal have so much support on both sides of the aisle? Because they BuyPartisan."

The Other 98% and Oil Change International consider the inauguration.

President Barack Obama will be publicly sworn in today – on Martin Luther King Jr. Day – to serve his second term as the 44th President of the United States.

Today is also the three-year anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that – in a 5-4 decision – deemed that corporations are “people” under the law. Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) – who now runs Progressives United (a rhetorical spin-off of Citizens United) - said in Feb. 2012 that the decision “opened floodgates of corruption” in the U.S. political system.

Unlike for his first Inauguration, Obama has chosen to allow unlimited corporate contributions to fill the fund-raising coffers of the entity legally known as the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Last time around the block, Obama refused corporate contributions for the Inauguration Ceremony as “a commitment to change business as usual in Washington.”

But not this time. With a fundraising goal of $50 million in its sights, the Obama Administration has “opened floodgates” itself for corporate influence-peddling at the 57th Inaugural Ceremony.

A case in point: the Obama Administration’s corporate backers for the Inaurguation have spent over $283 million on lobbying since 2009, the Center for Public Integrity explained in a recent report.

This has perturbed some.

“It’s a deeply disturbing move, and a reversal from the positive steps they took in 2009,” Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen told Roll Call. “Corporations make donations to events like the inaugural festivities because they get something back in return.”

One of the biggest givers so far is none other than what Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Steve Coll calls a “Private Empire” – ExxonMobil.

ExxonMobil: Over $260,000 to Obama’s Inauguration Committee

According to a scoop by The Hill, ExxonMobil contributed $250,000 to the Inaugural Committee. Additionally, ExxonMobil attorney Judith Batty has given the Committee $10,750, according to the Center for Responsive Politics‘ OpenSecrets.org. Thus, ExxonMobil has given the Committee a grand total of over $260,000.

ExxonMobil earned a profit of $41.1 billion in 2011 and in the first three quarters of 2012 earned a profit of $34.92 billion, well on pace to surpass its 2011 profit margin.

Some mathematical context is warranted. This means ExxonMobil earned $9,935 per minute in the first three quarters of 2012, $596,107 per hour and $14.3 million per day in profits.

Despite these oligarchic-type bottom lines, ExxonMobil doesn’t even pay its fair share in taxes, as ThinkProgress explained in a March 2012 article:

Citizens for Tax Justice reported Exxon paid only 17.6 percent taxes in 2010, lower than the average American, and a Reuters analysis using the same criteria estimates that Exxon will pay only 13 percent in effective taxes for 2011. Exxon paid zero taxes to the federal government in 2009.

In practice, this means that ExxonMobil actually pays less in taxes by percentage than an average Middle Class American family.

For a corporation with financial wealth of this magitude and one that, to boot, evades paying taxes, $260,000 is truly a “drop in the bucket.” And yet in a political system favoring those who can “pay to play,” it’s a true game-changer in terms of gaining direct access to the Administration.

Obama Administration Responds…Sort Of

Critics say it’s more of the same out of an Obama Administration that in the first term had a cozy relationship with corporate patrons.

“It fits into a pattern of not treating this campaign-finance issue with concern when in fact it is of great concern to the integrity of the political process and our democratic system,” Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, told The Hill.

The Obama team’s response? According to them, they are champions of campaign-finance reform and anti-corruption measures.

“This president has done more to reduce the influence of special interests in Washington than any administration in history,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told The Hill.

It looks as if Oil Change International has hit the nail on the head in framing this one, asking and answering the following question with an accompanying graphic co-created with The Other 98%.