Coal lobby PR firm memo boasts about manipulating Democrats and Republicans

UPDATE: we also just found a 2004 strategy memo from the head of a coal lobby group to the CEO of Peabody Energy.

A Virginia-based public relations firm called the Hawthorn Group sent out a newsletter to their “friends and family” outlining the work they did on behalf of a coal industry lobby group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.The newletter outlines in quite a bit of detail about how Hawthorn spindoctored coal during the Presidential election.

The newsletter starts:

“We thought the most fixated of the political and communications “junkies” might find interesting some highlights of a recent grassroots campaign Hawthorn created and managed for the American Coalition of Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).”

Hawthorn celebrates the fact that their coal-is-clean campaign was a success:

“In September 2007, on the key measurement question—Do you support/oppose the use of coal to generate electricity?—we found 46 percent support and 50 percent oppose. In a 2008 year-end survey that result had shifted to 72 percent support and 22 percent oppose. Not only did we see significantly increased support, opposition was cut by more than half. Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain addresses a crowd wearing “Clean Coal hats” in Pennsylvania.”

Instead of actually demostrating that somehow coal is clean, Hawthorn used age-old PR tactics to create the image instead:

“Building on our existing 200,000-strong grassroots citizen army, we leveraged the presidential candidates’ own supporters, finding advocates for clean coal among the crowd to carry our message. We got these on-the-spot advocates to show strong public support to the candidates and to the media, and enhanced that visibility by integrating online media that created even more of a buzz. We did this by sending “clean coal” branded teams to hundreds of presidential candidate events, carrying a positive message (we can be part of the solution to climate change) which was reinforced by giving away free t-shirts and hats emblazoned with our branding: Clean Coal. Attendees at the candidate events wore these items into the events.”


“The sea of supporters cheering their candidate while wearing the ACCCE message was a game changer. We watched as our message was transmitted by shirts and hats waved by thousands of excited supporters from the stands of high school gyms, floors of hotel ballrooms and tables of crowded coffee shops.”

In other words, forget about the realities of coal, focus on giving out free swag to create the appearance that people are in support of coal. Afterall, who turns down a free hat and t-shirt?

And if you ever need to put lipstick on a pig, or in this case, clean on coal, you’ll know how to do it Hawthorn Group Style because the newsletter then provides in great detail Hawthor’s clean coal PR campaign:

How did we do it? We took a two-pronged approach. The first part of our strategy was to raise visibility for clean coal at campaign events. The second part was to get media visibility in swing districts in the states by conducting media “whistle stop” tours.


Our approach at candidate events included the following:

  • We placed teams in early primary/caucus states, and key battleground states during the fall general election
  • We used branding for “clean coal” and “America’s Power” consistent with our national advertising campaign
  • The team drove a branded, flex-fuel mini-van to events for added visibility
  • At each event, we handed out tee shirts and hats with “clean coal” and our logo and Web url; as well as literature on our issue, to as many event attendees as possible as they stood in line waiting to enter the event
  • In the colder months, we also gave out cups of coffee bearing our logo
  • Took hundreds of photos and shot video of our activities and posted on our Web site, blog, Facebook page, Flickr account and YouTube channel
  • We constantly mobilized our existing grassroots citizen army to mail and e-mail the candidates and ask for support of clean coal technology: Candidate Survey
  • As we attended rallies, campuses, diners and worked town squares, we distributed sign-up cards inviting voters to join our grassroots network
  • We routinely e-mailed our grassroots network our schedule, as well as links to the photos and videos online. Example e-mail
  • We created and passed out business cards with our Web site, blog, Facebook page, Flickr account and YouTube channel to campaign event attendees.


The purpose of these tours was to raise the awareness of clean coal in communities we expected the candidates or their surrogates to visit. Elements included:

  • Using our internal polling, overlaid with national political polling, we targeted counties that we deemed to have a high percentage of swing voters.
  • We issued a media advisory letting the local media know a national “clean coal” campaign was coming to their town center.
  • We dropped by media outlets to distribute our media packets, have pictures taken and in some cases conduct an interview.
  • During these stops we would also visit the county courthouse, meet with local elected officials (many of whom are members of our existing grassroots citizen army) and visit local diners to distribute our materials, including clean coal placemats with our message and branding.
  • We would also visit any local colleges or universities and pass out hats, tee shirts and literature in the student unions or common area of campus.
  • In addition, we set up shop at local events where we were sure to draw the attention of large crowds, such as football games, the World Series games that were played in Philadelphia, county fairs and the North Carolina State Fair.


  • We directly reached over 50,000 people at candidate events (talked with them, handed them information).
  • We indirectly reached over 1,000,000 people attending the candidate events (they saw our hats, t-shirts and other collateral). This does NOT count the people who saw news reports of our activities on TV and in the newspapers.
  • We traveled over 44,500 miles in the seven states—exposing many more people to the branded Clean Coal Vans and teams as they traveled through the states. (That’s almost twice around the world at the equator!)
  • We stopped in 207 cities and towns along the way.
  • Our YouTube videos were viewed by over 17,000 people.

So there you go, if you ever need to put lipstick on a pig, or in this case, clean on coal, you’ll know how to do it Hawthorn Group Style!

Just in case Hawthorn decides to take down the newsletter, we’ve saved a copy that you can download in PDF format here: Hawthorn Group Coal Lobby Newsletter. A special thanks to the hardworking researchers at Kelley Campaigns who came across this newsletter.

This month we’re giving away FREE copies Coming Clean: Breaking America’s Addiction to Oil and Coal.

Go here to find out more details about DeSmogBlog’s monthly book give-away.



Message to convey was transmitted from on high? Check.

Message was conveyed by “grassroots” supporters? Check.

People behind the message were hidden behind a curtain during the PR campaign? Check.

Hawthorne Group – We Redefine What “Grassroots” Means!