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Overseeing Koch Profits: The Roots of David Vitter’s Green Billionaires Club Report

7:12 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Caricatures of the Koch Bros.

A deeper look at the Koch Bros ties to a recent congressional report.

A DeSmogBlog investigation reveals that Kristina Moore, the Senate staffer listed as the author of U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s (R-La.) “green billionaire’s club” report published by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) on July 30, has career roots tracing back to the Koch Brothers’ right-wing machine.

Metadata from Vitter’s green billionaire’s club report shows Moore’s name as the author, though it remains unclear whether or not she authored it alone. Moore did not respond to a question about her authorship sent via email.

During a July 30 presentation of the report given to conservative transparency advocacy group Cause of Action, Vitter thanked Moore and several other staffers for their help putting together the 92-page document.

Moore — EPW’s senior counsel for oversight and investigations — went to law school at George Mason University School of Law, graduating in 2007. David and Charles Koch both serve as major donors to George Mason University and also endow George Mason’s Mercatus Center, where Charles sits on the Board of Directors.

While attending law school, Moore concurrently worked as chief of staff for formerU.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), according to financial disclosure documents obtained by DeSmogBlog.

As a Davis staffer, Kristina Moore (then Kristina Husar), attended two Mercatus Center-sponsored retreats in 2006 and 2007, held in Richmond, Va. and Willamsburg, Va., respectively.

Husar served as the first Mercatus Fellow for Regulatory Studies. In February 2006, she wrote an article in the Small Business Advocate about attending the Mercatus retreat.

Originating as the Austrian Economics Program in the late-1970s and then hubbed at Rutgers University, Mercatus — latin for “markets” — has held annual congressional staff retreats from its inception, according to SourceWatch. The Center for Public Integrity pointed to the retreats as example of potentially illegal unregistered lobbying in a 2006 investigative piece.

The retreats fit under the broader umbrella of Mercatus’ “Capitol Hill Campus” program, which it devoted over $1.6 million to both in 2006 and 2007, according to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 990 forms reviewed by DeSmogBlog.

Beyond Moore, a close look into the origins of and people behind the Vitter green billionaire’s club report show Koch brothers ties through and through.

Mercatus-Taught Oversight Techniques

Prior to working for Vitter’s EPW Committee, Moore worked for U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.), serving as senior counsel for the minority staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, headed by Issa.

The Watchdog Institute revealed in a February 2011 investigation that many of the so-called “oversight” investigations conducted by the Committee benefited corporate campaign contributors.

And many of Issa’s Oversight Committee staffers, including Moore, attended Mercatus Center staff retreats. Mercatus schooled them in oversight tactics and techniques.

“In February 2009…Issa…approved a trip to a Mercatus-funded retreat for his committee staff director, Larry Brady,” wrote The Watchdog Institute. “On his disclosure form, Brady, who did not respond to an interview request, cited the purpose of the trip: ‘Provide in-depth briefings on issues of relevance to oversight investigations.’”

Daniel Epstein’s Koch Connection

Daniel Z. Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action — which did the presser premiering the Vitter green billionaire’s club report to the U.S. public — formerly served as counsel for Issa’s Oversight Committee before launching Cause of Action.

Epstein, who worked alongside Moore for the Oversight Committee’s investigations team, introduced Vitter at the event.

On the day of the release and the day after the release of the report, Cause of Action published four different items on its website promoting it, including issuing a public statement.

According to a 2009 article appearing in The Hill, Epstein served as “an associate in legal reform at the Koch Foundation, working together with Koch Industries Inc.’s assistant general counsel.”

“The job was an interesting mixture of corporate culture with an emphasis on social change — I miss that synergy,” he told The Hill at the time.

On his personal website, Epstein lists that 2008-2009 gig as “Counsel, Legal Reform at CGKF.” CGKF is shorthand for the Charles G. Koch Foundation and an in the Marin Independent Journal confirms Epstein worked there from June 2008 through January 2009.

Beyond Koch ties, Epstein also has personal financial ties that may make him averse to environmental regulations.

financial disclosure form submitted by Epstein when he worked for Issa’s Oversight Committee shows that he had (or still has) personal investments in both Dominion Resources and Duke Energy.

Both of those companies stand to lose from President Barack Obama’s U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) coal-fired power plant regulations, as both Dominion and Duke own coal-fired power plant assets.

“God bless the Koch brothers”

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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.”

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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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Congressmen Supporting Fracked Gas Exports Took $11.5 Million From Big Oil, Electric Utilities

7:37 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

south texas oil

South Texas Oil Refinery

On Jan. 25, 110 members of the U.S. House of Representatives – 94 Republicans and 16 Democrats - signed a letter urging Energy Secretary Steven Chu to approve expanded exports of liquified natural gas (LNG).

It was an overt sign of solidarity with the Obama Administration Department of Energy’s (DOE) LNG exports study, produced by a corporate consulting firm with long ties to Big Tobacco named NERA Economic Consulting (NERA is short for National Economic Research Associates), co-founded in 1961 by the “Father of Deregulation,” Alfred E. Kahn. That study concluded exporting gas obtained from the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process - sent via pipelines to coastal LNG terminals and then onto tankers – is in the best economic interests of the United States.

A DeSmogBlog investigation shows that these 110 signatories accepted $11.5 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil and electric utilities in the run-up to the November 2012 election, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.

Big Oil pumped $7.9 million into the signatories’ coffers, while the remaining $3.6 million came from the electric utilities industry, two industries whose pocketbooks would widen with the mass exportation of the U.S. shale gas bounty. Further, 108 of the 110 signers represent states in which fracking is occurring.

Exhibit A: Human Geography of Campaign Finance Post-Citizens United

Energy issues are almost always questions of infrastructure, geography, and geopolitics. So too is the case of LNG exports, with this letter serving as Exhibit A of the new human geography of campaign finance in the post-Citizens United world.

Texas

The expression always seems to ring true: everything is bigger in Texas.

This letter is no different, as 19 of the 110 signatories represent congressional districts in The Lone Star State, 12 Republicans and seven Democrats. Texas is home to both the Eagle Ford Shale basin and the Barnett Shale basin, as well as prospective LNG export terminals in Sabine Pass (co-owned by ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Qatar Petroleum), Freeport (partially owned by ConocoPhillips) and Corpus Christi (owned by LNG export giant, Cheniere).

The “Texas 19″ alone raked in $2.5 million from Big Oil and electric utilities. 

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX8), a recipient of $166,000 from Big Oil and another $23,000 from the electric utilities industry, oversees a congressional district in part based in Houston, the corporate epicenter for the oil and gas industry and home to the innovative leader in the sphere of LNG exports, Cheniere Energy. ExxonMobil and Chesapeake Energy, the number one and two producers of unconventional gas in the U.S., each gave Brady $10,000 before his 2012 electoral victory. Anadarko, Marathon and Valero also followed suit with $10,000 contributions and ConocoPhillips chipped in an extra $7,500.

Brady’s Texas colleague Joe Barton (R-TX6), whose congressional district in large part overlaps the Barnett Shale basin, took $162,150 from Big Oil and another $124,950 from the electric utilities industry. He received $13,000 from utilities giant Exelon Corporation, $12,500 from ExxonMobil, $10,000 from Koch Industries, $7,000 from Chevron and $5,000 from Chesapeake Energy. Koch Industries’ Koch Pipeline runs from the Eagle Ford Shale basin to Corpus Christi.

The Dirty, Dirty South

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As You Sow: Coal Investments, Shale Gas, a Bad Bet

12:58 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Two lumps of coal

Photo: Jeffrey Beall / Flickr

In a missive titled “White Paper: Financial Risks of Investments in Coal,” As You Sow concludes that coal is becoming an increasingly risky investment with each passing day. The fracking boom and the up-and-coming renewable energy sector are quickly superseding King Coal’s empire as a source of power generation, As You Sow concludes in the report.

As You Sow chocks up King Coal’s ongoing demise to five factors, quoting straight from the report:

1. Increasing capital costs for environmental controls at existing coal plants and uncertainty about future regulatory compliance costs

2. Declining prices for natural gas, a driver of electric power prices in competitive markets

3. Upward price pressures and price volatility of coal

4. High construction costs for new coal plants and unknown costs to implement carbon capture and storage

5. Increasing competitiveness of renewable generation resources

Prong one pertains to what groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Republican Party at-large, and the conservative media echo chamber have coined a “War on Coal” and a “Regulatory Train Wreck,” echoing what the shale gas industry’s PR squad has coined a “War on Shale Gas.”

According to As You Sow, regulations have tied the hands of the coal industry to a sufficient level that it’s no longer as lucrative of a venture to make a capital investment into coal as it is to invest in the shale gas and renewable energy industries. “Uncertainty about future regulations plagues coal plant operators who face the incremental imposition of more stringent standards over time,” As You Sow explained.

Shale Gas “Killing” Coal Power Plants

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