Alberta Govt Hires Bipartisan Team of Lobbyists to Woo Washington on Risky KXL Tar Sands Pipeline

Read time: 4 mins

The Alberta government has hired a team of “foreign special interest groups“ to lobby the U.S. Congress and the White House in a desperate attempt to garner support for the risky Keystone XL pipeline that would carry (and certainly spilltar sands crude through the heartland of America to the Gulf Coast and on to export markets overseas. Given the Exxon tar sands spill in Arkansas, dilbit train derailment in Minnesota and other tar sands disasters in recent weeks, I suppose Alberta figured it needs all the help it can muster.

Politico reports that Alberta is spending $200,000 over the next few months to retain the lobbying and PR services of Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications and Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti. 

Politico quotes a filing from the Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti firm that says it will provide “strategic consulting in educating U.S. government officials about the Keystone XL pipeline and Alberta's energy resources,” while the Rasky firm will “assist in communicating priority issues and promoting the principal's energy and environmental positions to the executive and legislative branches of government as well as other U.S. institutions.”

While the ultimate fate of the Keystone XL pipeline rests squarely in the hands of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, Alberta is ramping up its all-out Washington blitz to win support for the controversial proposal in Congress and anywhere on the Hill their lobbyists can get in the door. 

Here is a brief look at the specific lobbyists retained to curry favor on behalf of the Alberta government. Note that at least two have experience working on the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John Kerry.

Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti

David Castagnetti - Partner.  Castagnetti is a “Democratic uber lobbyist” and political strategist. Castagnetti's bio at states that prior to joining Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc., “David served as the day-to-day point person to Congressional leaders and Members of the House and Senate for Senator John Kerry's 2004 Presidential campaign.” Castagnetti was also a donor to the pro-Obama PAC Priorities USA Action.  He has lobbied on behalf of oil giant Koch Industries as recently as 2011, according to OpenSecrets. He began his career in the Office of Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA). 

Alex Vogel - Partner. A co-founder of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti and a veteran Republican Party lawyer, Vogel claims to have a “true insider's perspective on Washington.” Prior to starting the firm with Bruce Mehlman, Vogel served as Chief Counsel to Tennessee Republican Sen. Bill Frist, M.D.  

Kelly Rucker Bingel - Partner. A former newspaper reporter and veteran Democratic Hill staffer, Bingel is a moderate Democrat who served for many years as a top staffer to former Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, including her time as chief of staff from 2003-5. Bingel's bio states that she “helped moderate Democrats create the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition” with then Rep. Lincoln. And “as a Legislative Director and Chief of Staff on the Senate side [for Sen. Lincoln], she helped create the Senate New Dems.”
In the 1990s, when Bingel served as Communications Director for Rep. Blanche Lincoln, she “helped craft legislative language” during negotiations on the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and “later parlayed her telecom background as a lobbyist for AT&T's Office of Law and Government Affairs.” But a previous version of her bio, accessible at, reveals her classic revolving door move straight from the Hill to lobbying for AT&T “during implementation of the Telecom Act.” It also states that: “In fact, Kelly served as Sen. Lincoln’s liaison to the telecommunications and technology industry for more than 12 years. Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti’s high tech clients are reaping the rewards of this experience today.” 

Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications

Graham Shalgian - Senior Vice President at Rasky. A long-term staffer of former liberal lion U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, Shalgian's bio notes that Shalgian's “experience includes both the “Obama for America” and “John Kerry for President” campaigns.”

David Tamasi - Senior Vice President at Rasky. Tamasi's bio states that he is “recognized by National Journal as a GOP “Insider” and regarded as a leading Republican fundraiser serving on the national finance committees for Mitt Romney for President and U.S. Senator Scott Brown.”

Benjamin Nguyen Wexler - Nu Wexler is Vice President of Public Affairs at Rasky. He joined the firm only a few weeks ago. Wexler previously served as communications director for Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. In addition to his jobs in government, Wexler worked at Ogilvy PR Worldwide and Wal-Mart Watch, according to his LinkedIn profile. 

I'll update this post on Thursday with further details as I find them. 

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Or are they getting desperate?

(Note, this is an aggressive plan to miss Alberta's Carbon Emission targets but it will fill up Alberta's faltering coffers.)

I was reading somewhere else that 2/3 of American's support the pipeline.  But hiring PR firms at the last second sounds like an act of desperation.  (Makes me wonder what I'm missing.)

The scary thing is that we are about due for some really interesting weather.  Either this year or the next.  I think that Obama needs something like that bring in environmental policies.