The oil industry has put their astroturf and lobbying efforts into overdrive over the last few months, preparing for a bitter fight in the upcoming 2012 presidential election. In addition to their usual work of pushing for increased domestic oil production and the opening of federal lands for oil drilling, the industry is working around the clock to convince lawmakers to sign off on the Keystone XL Pipeline that would transport crude tar sand oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.
ThinkProgress reporter Lee Fang has helped uncover some of the oil industry’s recent astroturf tactics at townhall meetings across the country. At a separate townhall event in Iowa, Republicans Rick Santorum and Herman Cain were asked questions by “activists” planted by the industry-funded group the Iowa Energy Forum. From Fang’s report:
ThinkProgress witnessed the Iowa Energy Forum in action on a recent reporting trip. At a local Republican event at the Pizza Ranch buffet, a man affiliated with the group pressed Rick Santorum to commit to supporting the Keystone XL pipeline as another person with the group videotaped the exchange. The same dynamic happened again later that week at a Tea Party event with Herman Cain.
We came across a Youtube account affiliated with the Iowa Energy Forum. In addition to hosting an infomercial from the American Petroleum Institue, the trade association sponsoring the Forum, the channel features videos of astroturfed questions planted with GOP presidential candidates like Cain, Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, and Newt Gingrich. Many of the exchanges appear as authentic dialogue between a candidate and a regular Iowan. However, the questions are part of a well-crafted effort by oil lobbyists steer, and to some extent control, the GOP primary.
(Watch a compilation of planted questions at town hall events here.)
Of course, Republican candidates are more than willing participants in the oil industry’s outreach efforts. Some of the oil industry’s lobbyists behind the Iowa Energy Forum effort double as consultants to the Pawlenty campaign. Cain has said that he would literally appoint the CEO of Shell Oil to set oil industry regulations at the EPA. And as ThinkProgress discovered, the American Petroleum Institute maintains an official partnership with Gingrich’s 527 attack group, American Solutions for Winning the Future (ASWF).
The Des Moines Register has pointed out that on the website of the Iowa Energy Forum, the fine print reveals that the American Petroleum Institute (API) is their main sponsor.
But the oil industry isn’t just limiting themselves to townhall meetings – they have also embraced social media as a means to manipulate public opinion. Rainforest Action Network blog The Understory and Mother Jones are reporting that oil industry insiders are creating fake Twitter accounts to tout the need for the Keystone XL Pipeline.
From The Understory:
Followers of the #tarsands hashtag on Twitter may have noticed a strange spike in posts yesterday morning. Within three minutes, fifteen accounts (the list has since grown) all posted the message “#tarsands the truth is out! [link]” linking to API’s web page about oil sands. Then came another post from the same accounts, this time linking to the Nebraska Energy Forum, one of 26 state-based-front-groups sponsored by API in the lead up to the 2012 election. Then a flurry of posts late last night from those same accounts, all linking to a post on “publicaffairsinformant.com” touting KeystoneXL and linking back to the Nebraska Energy Forum.
As we previously reported, API president Jack Gerard has made it clear that he wants to have an oil lobbyist placed in every Congressional district in America. And from the looks of things, he’s doing his best to fulfill that mission for the oil industry.