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ND Treasurer: Red Carpet Rollout for Gen. Petraeus Fracking Field Trip “Not Unusual”

3:19 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Petreaus drinking coffee

Petraeus’ pro-fracking mission received a hero’s welcome in North Dakota.

North Dakota Treasurer Kelly Schmidt has responded to DeSmogBlog’s investigation of the Bakken Shale basin fracking field trip her office facilitated for former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus, who now works at the Manhattan-based private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR).

Schmidt expanded on the initial comments she provided to DeSmogBlog in response to our findings obtained via North Dakota Open Records Statute. Among other things, she described the blurred lines existing between the North Dakota government, the oil industry and private equity firms like KKR as “not unusual.”

Schmidt’s comments came on May 23 on WDAY’s Jay Thomas Show, guest hosted that day by Rob Port, just over three weeks after her office hosted Petraeus.

DeSmogBlog’s May 22 investigative piece revealed that KKR — which has ties to North Dakota’s hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom via Samson Resources and The Ridge housing complex and considers itself a “mini oil and gas company” — wrote the press release for the Office of North Dakota State Treasurer announcing Petraeus’ visit, closely counseled Schmidt’s office on media strategy and hosted Schmidt on a company chartered private jet. 

Radio host Port was the “winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence” according to his biography on his Say Anything blog, and is also a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council, a wing of the State Policy Network “stink tanks.”

Prior to interviewing Schmidt, Port had previously written an article on the same day the DeSmogBlog piece was published in response to it, exonerating Schmidt for what unfolded during the trip. His interview with Schmidt on the Jay Thomas Show did much the same.

KKR Press Release Writing “Not Unusual”

After explaining how she initially met Petraeus — who on top of his role at the KKR Global Institute, also works as an adjunct professor teaching KKR’s curriculum at CUNY Honors College, USC and Harvard University — Schmidt responded to a question by Port, saying it was “not something unusual” for KKRto draft the press release now published on the treasurer’s office website.

“We worked collaboratively with KKR to set things up. When you’re working with someone who has the caliber and in some cases security issues that I may not be aware of nor my staff, we always work together with staff of someone who’s coming to visit or someone of his caliber,” she said. “So to have them create a press release was not something unusual.”

Schmidt also cited another tie Petraeus has to North Dakota, which served as a major impetus for KKR and the treasurer’s office to co-manage the media scrupulously: Paula Broadwell.

Schmidt Thanks ND National Guard for Oil War

Petraeus resigned from the CIA in November 2012 after it got out that he had an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

Broadwell — author of the book, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus — is a native of Bismarck, ND, the final destination of Petraeus’ late-April trip to the state.

Bismarck, in turn, was a key part of the trip. While there, Petraeus gave a lecture on leadership to the North Dakota National Guard.

In introducing Petraeus at the National Guard event, Schmidt thanked the troops in attendance for fighting in a war “over there for the oil we all need.”

“David and I have been out in the western portion of North Dakota where we have shared with him the challenges we’ve been facing to help make our nation and our world an energy independent country so that you and your fellow officers and enlisted folks never have to go over there again in order to fight for the oil we all need,” said Schmidt in a video obtained via Freedom of Information request by DeSmogBlog from the North Dakota National Guard.

Schmidt also told Port the North Dakota treasurer’s office was happy to do the media bidding of both Petraeus and KKR to ensure the National Guard speaking event went smoothly.

“Most people are familiar with the indiscretion that [Petraeus] had and its relationship to North Dakota,” she told Port. “And I was concerned this would take on legs and have a life of its own and that was something none of us wanted to see happen…I did not want this to become something it was never intended to be.”

“Smell Test”

Port also said on the show that DeSmogBlog’s alleged claim that “[Petraeus] was kept from the media doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Read the rest of this entry →

Stink Tanks: Historical Records Reveal State Policy Network Was Created by ALEC

9:24 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted by DeSmogBlog 

The Madison Hotel, DC

A 1991 report tracked down by DeSmogBlog from the University of California-San Francisco’s Legacy Tobacco Documents reveals that the State Policy Network (SPN) was created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), raising additional questions over both organizations’ Internal Revenue Service (IRS) non-profit tax status.

Titled “Special Report: Burgeoning Conservative Think Tanks” and published by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the report states that State Policy Network’s precursor — the Madison Group — was “launched by the American Legislative Exchange Council and housed in the Chicago-based Heartland Institute.”

Further, Constance “Connie” Campanella — former ALEC executive director and the first president of the Madison Group — left ALEC in 1988 to create a lobbying firm called Stateside Associates. Stateside uses ALEC meetings (and the meetings of other groups) as lobbying opportunities for its corporate clients.

“Stateside Associates is the largest state and local government affairs firm,” according to its website. “Since 1988, the Stateside team has worked across the 50 states and in many local governments on behalf of dozens of companies, trade associations and government and non-profit clients.”

Named Constance Heckman while heading ALEC, Campenella also formerly served on the Board of Directors of Washington Area State Relations Group, a state-level lobbyist networking group. 

“The Washington Area State Relations Group (WASRG) is one of the nation’s largest organizations dedicated exclusively to serving state government relations professionals,” explains its website. “Since the mid-1970s, WASRG has been providing its corporate, trade association and public sector members with a unique and valuable opportunity to interact with their peers, key state officials and public policy experts.”

Shadow Lobbying All Along

ALEC is currently under fire for potentially abusing its 501(c)(3) non-profit IRS charity tax status, acting as a shadow lobbying apparatus and “corporate bill mill” throughout its 40 years of existence.

In response to criticism, internal documents recently revealed by The Guardian show that ALEC created a 501(c)(4) group called the Jeffersonian Project, a move activists said was a tacit admission ALEC has illegally served as a lobbying apparatus from the beginning.

What Campanella understood and cashed in on by creating Stateside Associates was how the “shadow lobbying” process works. Her career move from serving as ALEC’s executive director to setting up Stateside is another indicator ALEC and related groups facilitate lobbying.

“Stink Tanks” Ideas Factory

While ALEC facilitates passage of “model bills” — what the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has coined a “corporate bill mill” — State Policy Network proliferates the ideas legitimizing the myriad models that become legislation in statehouses nationwide.

These ideas come in the form of what CMD and Progress Now call “Stink Tanks,” modeled to be “mini-Heritage Foundations” by one of its original funders, Thomas Roe. State Policy Network has 64 state affiliates.

Roe, who passed away in 2000, served as vice chairman and finance chairman of the Republican Party in South Carolina and as a member of the Republican National Finance Committee. The Heritage Foundation, where Roe served on the Board of Trustees, now houses the Thomas Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies.

Though current State Policy Network president Tracie Sharp claimed SPN member groups don’t coordinate with one another in a November Politico article, Roe explicitly funded the organization to do just that.

“Starting in 1987, these organizations began meeting regularly as the Madison Group…to trade information and discuss strategies,” a history of SPN published in 2007 explains. “Roe believed that these get-togethers were so helpful that they should be formalized through a professional association that would host annual conferences, provide services, and improve communications among its members.”

To this day, State Policy Network hands out an annual Roe Award.

“The annual Roe Award pays tribute to those in the state public policy movement whose achievements have greatly advanced the free market philosophy. It recognizes leadership, innovation and accomplishment in public policy,” explains the SPN website. “The award is an eagle, a symbol of liberty and the courage and conviction necessary for its preservation.”

“Winning is the Operative Word”

In introducing the “Burgeoning Conservative Think Tanks” report in a July 1991 letter to Kurt Malmgren — then the Senior Vice President of State Activities for the Tobacco Institute — former ALEC Executive Director Sam Brunelli wrote “winning is what ALEC is all about.”

“Winning is the operative word. It is an experience you can appreciate because winning the public policy debate will continue to have a tremendous positive effect on the ‘bottom line’ of your company,” Brunelli wrote.

“At ALEC, we bring together, in an intellectually and challenging environment, state legislators and corporate and business executives, wherein we provide the mixture of determination, dedication, preparation, and teamwork — those elements so necessary to winning!”

Yet, it’s fair to say after a week of hard-hitting investigative journalism by The Guardian and many other outlets, both ALEC and the State Policy Network have doubled down on defense and are not “winning” for now. Read the rest of this entry →

Stink Tanks: State Policy Network Internal Budget Documents Revealed by The Guardian

10:00 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

The Madison Hotel, DC

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

It’s been a rough week for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The “corporate bill mill” group’s annual States & Nation meeting was overshadowed by damaging evidence of misconduct revealed by The Guardian.

And it just got a whole lot rougher with yet another investigative installment in The Guardian series.

This time, instead of focusing on ALEC alone, Guardian reporters Suzanne Goldenberg and Ed Pilkington took a big swing at what Center for Media and Democracy and Progress Now have called the “stink tanks” network run by the right-wing State Policy Network (SPN). Leaked a copy of SPN’s tax and budget proposal published in July 2013, the documents offer a rare glimpse inside the SPN machine.

One of the biggest revelations in the energy and environment sphere: SPN Associate Member, the Beacon Hill Institute “requested $38,825…to weaken or roll back a five-year effort by states in the region to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” explained The Guardian. ”The institute said it would carry out research into the economic impact of the cap-and-trade system operating in nine states known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.”

“BHI appeared to have already arrived at its conclusions in advance, admitting from the outset that the aim of the research was to arm opponents of cap-and-trade with data for their arguments, and to weaken or destroy the initiative.”

Another huge related development came in a piece published concurrently by The Guardian. That piece pointed out that Beacon Hill Institute is in trouble with its host institution Suffolk University for pushing research explicitly funded by SPN to oppose the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, with research results already determined before the inquiry began.

“The stated research goals, as written, were inconsistent with Suffolk University’s mission,” Greg Gatlin, the university’s vice-president for marketing and communications, wrote in an email to The Guardian.The Beacon Hill Institute’s grant proposal did not go through the university’s approval process. The university would not have authorized this grant proposal as written.”

Searle, Monsanto, “The Don”: Oh My

The Guardian‘s piece is based on funding proposals from SPN member organizations handed to the Searle Freedom Trust, “a private foundation that in 2011 donated almost $15m to largely rightwing causes,” the paper explains.

“The trust, founded in 1998, draws on the family fortune of the late Dan Searle of the GD Searle & Company empire – now part of Pfizer – which created NutraSweet,” wrote The Guardian. “The trust is a major donor to such mainstays of the American right and the Tea Parties as Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), the Heartland Institute and the State Policy Network itself.”

Prior to Pfizer buying it out, Searle was a wholly owned subsidiary of transnational agribusiness giant, Monsanto. Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush, served as CEO of Searle & Company from 1977-1985. Rumsfeld left the firm after it was purchased by Monsanto, personally earning $12 million on the deal.

Donors Trust/Donors Capital, Chicago Ties

The Chicago-based Searle Freedom Trust also gives big money to Donors Trust/Donors Capital, donating $1,880,000 between 2009 and 2011 according to SourceWatch and millions more to ALEC, according to the Bridge Project. Donors is referred to by Mother Jones reporter Andy Kroll as the ”the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement.”

The Windy City ties that bind are key. Among them, the Chicago-based Heartland Institute and the ”anonymous donor” behind its anti-science climate denial campaign (mentioned in the “Heartland Institute Exposed” documents), Chicago billionaire Barre Seid.

The Guardian‘s piece notes that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama who has been dubbed “Mayor 1%” by Chicago activists and in a recent book by Kari Lyderson — was selected by SPN member the Illinois Policy Institute as the ideal spokesman for slashing pensions of public sector workers in Illinois.

Today, Illinois Democratic Party Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation doing just that.

“Mini-Heritage Foundations”

Holding its first meeting at the Madison Hotel in Washington DC, and coining itself the Madison Group, the right-wing Powell Memo-inspired founders of the group envisioned the organization to consist of a nationwide network of “mini-Heritage Foundations,” according to The National Review.

Decades later, the vision has come to fruition, with the State Policy Network’s $83 million worth of “stink tanks” polluting the public square with the ideas necessary to push forward ALEC’s corporate agenda. Read the rest of this entry →

North Carolina Renewable Energy Initiatives Under Attack by ALEC

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Duke Energy

Duke Energy's Cliffside Coal Plant

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Renewable energy is under attack in the Tar Heel State. That’s the word from Greenpeace USA‘s Connor Gibson today in a report that implicates King Coal powerhouse, Duke Energy and the fossil fuel industry at-large.

The vehicle Duke Energy is utilizing for this attack is one whose profile has grown in infamy in recent years: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC is described as a “corporate bill mill” by its critics. It’s earned such a description because it passes “model bills” written by corporate lobbyists and to boot, the lobbyists typically do so behind closed doors at ALEC’s annual meetings.

The ALEC-Duke Alernative Energy Attack

Gibson puts it bluntly in his exposé, explaning that North Carolina Republican Rep. Mike Hager “says he is confident that he has the votes needed to weaken or undo his state’s [renewable] energy requirements during his second term.” 

Hager is a former Duke employee, where he worked as an engineer. Duke maintains its corporate headquarters in Charlotte, NC. 

The model bill Hager appears likely to push is called the Electricity Freedom Act,” a piece of legislation calling for the nullification of any given state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS). Passed in October 2012 by ALEC, the bill was actually co-written with the fossil fuel-funded think tank, the Heartland Institute (of “Heartland Exposed” fame). 

“We wrote the model legislation and I presented it. I didn’t have to give that much of a case for it,” James Taylor of Heartland told The Washington Post in a November 2012 investigative report.

Taylor’s claims are backed by economic analyses of a sort.

That is, the sort one would expect from a group heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry (Heartland) teaming up with a group receiving 98 percent of its funding from corporate interests (ALEC). As The Post explained back in November:

As part of its effort to roll back renewable standards, ALEC is citing economic analyses of state policies co-published by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute and the State Policy Network. Both groups have received donations from foundations funded by the Koch brothers.

Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project described ALEC’s game plan as a deceptive “one-two punch” against renewable energy to The Post.

“You push the legislation to state legislators and then you fund reports to support the argument and convince state lawmakers and all without any transparency or disclosure about the sources of this funding,” he said back in November.

North Carolina’s GOP (which according to the Center for Media and Democracy‘s (CMD)  SourceWatch has 45 ALEC members) appears set to go on the offensive against the state’s existing renewable energy standards. 

More to Come?

There’s far more of this to come in the weeks and months ahead in statehouses nationwide.

As Gibson explains, “According to its own documents, ALEC spent the last couple years monitoring states attempting to introduce state-level renewable energy portfolio standards in West Virginia, Vermont and Virginia as well as legislative attacks on REPS laws in New Hampshire and in Ohio.”

Renewable energy is under attack. That is, of course, unless its advocates fight back.

Photo by Rainforest Action under Creative Commons license