PR Company Tries to Hide Links to New Pro-Fossil Fuel Investment Group

Read time: 3 mins
The Institute for Pension Fund Integrity (IPFI) cover

By Andy Rowell, crossposted with permission from Oil Change International

Last month, Oil Change International and DeSmog reported on the formation of a new organization, The Institute for Pension Fund Integrity (IPFI), which had published its first “white paper” on “getting politics out of pensions.”

The white paper pushed back against the growing global movement to end investment in fossil fuels. As we reported, the headline on the Institutional Investor website summed up the main finding of the report: “New Pensions Group Says Forget About Climate Change.”

The images in the report (like the image above) are symbolically deliberate: They are of police, construction workers in hard hats, firemen, pensioners and teachers. To the reader these are meant to represent hard working folk whose pensions are threatened. But is the report speaking on their behalf?

As we reported, the author of the report and founder of the IPFI is Christopher Burnham, a former Treasurer of the State of Connecticut, and former United Nations Undersecretary. “Whois” records reveal that Burnham set up the IPFI’s website on March 22. Two days later records show that Burnham was still showing as the registrant name.

However by April 9, the contact for the website had been changed to Fred Wollenberg from the Bergman Group, which calls itself a communications company which specializes in new media, publishing, and direct marketing. 

Fred Wollenberg IPFI Whois record
Screen shot of Whois listing of IPFI website showing Bergman Group affiliation, as of April 23, 2018.

Why this is interesting is that according to his biog on Bergman’s website, Wollenberg has developed “speciality marketing” for Exxon as well as the DCI Group, which was outed last year by Bloomberg for being behind another uncannily similar anti-disinvestment initiative called “Protect Our Pensions.” As Bloomberg reported, Protect Our Pensions “isn’t what it appears to be […] much of the writing is actually done by public affairs firms operating in the shadows.”

Well, it seems that the Bergman Group also wants to hide in the shadows.

Our blog was published on April 25. It was entitled: “Is Fossil Fuel Industry Secretly Behind a new Campaign against Fossil Fuel Investment?” At the time of the blog, the “Whois” record showed that both the Registrant and Administration Contact for the website was Fred Wollenberg at 7204 Glen Forest Drive, Richmond, Virginia.

However, at 20:34:59 that evening the “Whois” record for the website changed. Now both the Registrant and Administration Contacts are “Domains by Proxy” based in Arizona.

Domains by Proxy IPFI Whois record
Screen shot of Whois listing for IPFI on April 30, 2018.

The whole point of using a Proxy domain company is to hide who set up the website. People do it all the time. It’s the online equivalent of trying to cover your tracks.

So the obvious question is why was the IPFI so keen to hide the involvement of the Bergman Group or why was Fred Wollenberg from the Bergman Group so keen to try and wipe away his electronic fingerprints from the website?

The obvious conclusion is that they don’t want people to know the link. This may be because Bergman’s clients include Exxon and the DCI Group, it may not.  What we do know is that by trying to hide the connection, both Bergman and the IPFI just made another mistake in setting up what is increasingly looking likely as a fossil fuel front group.

IPFI Whois date of change record to Domains by Proxy
Screen shot of further information on IPFI listing, including date of last change.

You may see the image of a teacher or a fireman, but they hide what is really happening here. Because often the cover-up gives you greater clues as to what is really going on than the original crime.

Main image: Screen shot from the The Institute for Pension Fund Integrity report.

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