Senate Democrats' effort to pass climate or energy legislation before the August recess has spurred a flurry of advertising as companies and their lobbying groups work to sway votes.
Diverse interests, from the trade group for oil and natural gas to an alliance of renewable power interests, pumped money into television and newspaper ads. The influence efforts accelerated after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he would bring a bill to the floor. More ads are planned for next two weeks, and many are running across the country. One targets Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and sponsor of one of the bills that could reach the floor.
"We see this happen on most major pieces of legislation," said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a watchdog group. "This type of AstroTurf lobbying is very effective."
Ever since the ads in the 1990s featuring "Harry and Louise" helped derail health care reform, Holman said, "companies have realized they can wield as much, if not more, influence on Congress" through advertising than they can through lobbying.
Groups funding the ads hear the legislative clock ticking.
"We really want to drive the message home to Congress that if they're going to be submitting a bill, then that bill should create supports for the alternative energy sector," said Stephanie Dreyer, spokeswoman for Growth Energy, a group that represents ethanol interests and is part of a coalition sponsoring a new ad.
"This is our time, if we're going to have a chance of impacting energy legislation," Dreyer said. "This is our week."
This week brought a new ad from a coalition that includes Growth Energy. Others in that alliance are American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Alliance to Save Energy, Covanta Energy, National Hydropower Association and Business Council for Sustainable Energy. AWEA took the lead, asking others to contribute financially, others in the alliance said. AWEA declined to make anyone available to talk about the ad campaign.
The spot features images of a burning oil rig on the water, a massive oil spill and belching smokestacks.
"This doesn't have to be our future," the ad says. "Not if the Senate acts now to pass legislation that promotes energy efficiency, biofuels and renewable energy sources." Then, as the images change to windmills, crops and corn, the American flag, and solar panels, a voice intones, "Let's make America more energy-independent, protect our environment and create millions of new jobs right here at home instead of losing those jobs to other countries. If you want to change America's energy future, call your senators and tell them to support clean energy legislation now."
The spot is running on network television in the Washington, D.C., area as well as on CNN, FOX, CNBC and MSNBC. The group last month funded an ad in Politico newspaper that featured a letter to the Senate.
Backers of the effort have much to gain or lose in an energy bill.
One of the top priorities of AWEA, a trade group for wind companies, is passage of a national mandate that utilities generate a portion of their power from renewable sources, called a renewable portfolio standard. Bingaman's S. 1462, one of the measures that could reach the floor, includes a renewable electricity standard and other incentives that promote clean energy technologies, as well as expanded offshore drilling.
AWEA also wants a more permanent tax incentive program for renewables. That also would benefit Covanta, which owns and operates facilities that turn waste into power, and Growth Energy, which represents ethanol interests. The groups, as well as others in the coalition, support climate legislation that would set a cost for carbon emissions. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have been working with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) on climate language to be added to an energy bill.
Groups in the coalition united last month as they saw what they suspected was the final window for Congress to pass energy legislation this session.
"Time was running out in Congress -- and the renewable community and the efficiency community, we knew, in order to get a bill passed this year, we had to join forces, which we had never done before," said an aide at Alliance to Save Energy who asked not to be identified because he wasn't authorized to speak about strategy.
Ads from oil and others
More ads are coming from American Petroleum Institute, the biggest influence group for the oil and natural gas industry, and Clean Energy Works, a coalition of about 60 groups supporting climate legislation.
API next week will expand an advertising campaign that it launched last week. API will blanket the media with television, radio and online versions of an ad opposing any changes in the tax benefits that the industry currently receives.
Oil production tax breaks, originally developed to promote oil production, save the industry about $4 billion per year, according to government reports. The Obama administration wants to eliminate those tax benefits, including a tax deduction given to manufacturers, deductions for some drilling costs, and credits given for low-volume oil and gas wells. Industry says that removing any of those benefits equals a new tax.
"What would new taxes on oil and natural gas mean to you?" the API ad says. It then features a woman standing in what looks like a kitchen who says, "When I look at the future and think about all the things that are going on, and -- this is certainly not the time to raise taxes, because some people are just barely holding on. No, no no ... we, the working people, get hurt the most. The energy tax is more than an energy tax; it's taxing everyone."
Green groups have slammed the API ad as a false effort to show real people. The woman in the ad and others in API's recent ads are "average Americans who wanted to voice their concerns/opinions about taxes on the oil andnatural gas industry," said API spokeswoman Cathy Landry. The woman in this ad is not an actor, Landry said.
The API ad over the next two weeks will run on television and radio in the Washington, D.C., area. Television and radio ads will run in Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Virginia, states that API said are important to the debate. Radio alone will be heard in Maine, Missouri, Ohio and West Virginia. Online ads will run through the end of the month.
Clean Energy Works, meanwhile, is finishing an ad that attacks those tax breaks, which the coalition calls a "Big Oil Welfare Tax" that will be paid by consumers. That planned spot, expected to run over the next few weeks, talks about "the Big Oil industry's hypocrisy of arguing against the climate bill because it's a national energy tax, when they are the ones benefiting from an existing national energy tax that subsidizes their profits," said David Di Martino, spokesman for Clean Energy Works.
Clean Energy Works also has expanded its ad campaign, which it says is a response to "Big Oil's efforts to block climate legislation."
The coalition's ad shows pictures of more than $4-per-gallon gas prices, BP PLC CEO Tony Hayward and the burning Deepwater Horizon oil rig before it sank in the Gulf of Mexico. "What's next from the big oil companies?" the television ad from green groups asks. "A multimillion-dollar smear campaign to stop clean energy legislation from passing in the U.S. Senate."
The spots advocate passage of "clean energy" legislation (Greenwire, July 8).
Five members of Clean Energy Works -- Environment New Mexico, Audubon New Mexico, Sierra Club, Conservation Voters New Mexico and New Mexico Wildlife Federation -- have sponsored a television ad in New Mexico that calls on Bingaman to help win passage of legislation.
"He has a chance to make history," that ad says. "Congress is closer than ever to passing a clean energy climate plan that puts America to work ... but it won't happen unless our senator acts. Call Senator Bingaman. America needs his leadership to get it done."
VoteVets, also a member of Clean Energy Works, is planning "a new national security-themed ad highlighting our dependence on foreign oil and how it endangers our troops and that reducing our dependence on oil is a national security imperative," Di Martino said. That ad is scheduled to run next week.
A group calling itself "CO2 is Green" ran a half-page Washington Post ad Wednesday. It urged people to tell senators to vote against a cap-and-trade bill because it would drive up costs for electricity and transportation fuels and would not change the climate because "the bill is based on the false premise that man-made CO2 is a major cause of climate change. Real, empirical evidence indicates it is not" (Greenwire, July 14).
The spokesman for that group, H. Leighton Steward, said that there has not been a legitimate debate over climate change science. If environmentalists succeed in garnering policies that limit carbon, he said, there will be a food shortage, because crops require carbon. Steward sits on the board of directors of EOG Resources Inc., an oil and natural gas development company. He also is an honorary director at API.
Costs not clear
Groups funding the ads largely declined to say what they were spending. Clean Energy Works said its ad that ran nationally on MSNBC and CNN cost "six figures." Others did not give amounts.
More disclosure is needed, Holman said. Lobbying disclosure rules do not require companies or trade groups to specify what they've spent on advertising. Nonprofit groups in their tax returns reveal the total they've spent on advertising, lobbying and other efforts to influence, but the returns aren't itemized.
In some cases, it's clear who's behind the spots. In other cases, it's murkier, Holman said. Even when the name of the group paying for the ad is shown, he said, it's often not clear who that group's members are or what portion of funding they provided.
"We don't know who's spending the money, what it is they're trying to buy, or what the interests are on each side," Holman said, adding that "these are expensive ads. Unfortunately, it doesn't get reported anywhere."
"We have the right to know who's trying to buy influence on Capitol Hill," Holman added. "It's that type of knowledge that helps voters and citizens make an informed choice."