James Hoggan's blog

Astroturf King Jack Bonner's Long History of Deceitful "Grassroots" Lobbying

As you’ll recall, Bonner & Associates – the D.C. Astroturf shop busted for mailing at least a dozen forged letters to Congress this summer prior to the House vote on climate and energy legislation – has found itself under the media spotlight lately, struggling to defend its sullied brand.

Tomorrow morning, Rep. Edward Markey’s Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming will hold a hearing on the Bonner and Associates forged letter scandal and it can’t come soon enough.

But the forgery scandal is just one example in a long career of anti-democratic Astroturf jobs for which Jack Bonner’s firm is responsible.

Public relations firms like to try to shape the news, not appear in the headlines themselves. Jack Bonner knows this as well as anyone in the business, and is rarely quoted in news stories, preferring to keep a low public profile. But when his firm was caught sending forged letters to Congress this summer while working on contract for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) and its parent company the Hawthorn Group, Jack Bonner ended up in the uncomfortable position of defending his own firm rather than the interests of his corporate clients.

The gaffe appears to have cost Bonner a great deal of business, including the lucrative contract with Hawthorn.

Sources close to Bonner’s operation say that the firm furloughed several key staffers in the wake of the ACCCE scandal, informing them that there is currently not enough business to keep them on staff. And Jack Bonner’s much-anticipated appearance before the Congressional committee to answer questions about his firm’s role in the forgery scandal will not likely help the Bonner firm’s portfolio, either.

New Pew Center Poll Confirms The Effects of Climate Confusion Campaign

Despite taking their licks in the press lately, the Chamber of Commerce and the coal industry front group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) have something to celebrate today.

A new poll released by the Pew Research Center has found the number of Americans who believe that pollution is causing climate change declined 20 percent over the past two years. Only 57% of Americans believe there is solid scientific evidence that the global climate is warming.

Some pin this decline on the economy, arguing that Americans have other things to worry about and climate change has drifted off their radar screen.

But, as I explained to the Guardian newspaper today, “a big part of this problem is this campaign to mislead Americans about climate science. This is a very sophisticated group of people who know how to create doubt and confusion and they have done a very good job of it.”

US Chamber's Long History of Killing Clean Energy Policy

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is taking on water for advocating a climate change position that even its own members find irresponsible.

But this is only the latest episode in the Chamber’s 20-year campaign to block legislative solutions that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create new green jobs and, ultimately, lead to energy independence.

That campaign is a central – unavoidable – theme in Climate Cover-up, the book that I have recently written with Richard Littlemore. It details four years of research on climate change misinformation and especially on the work of a powerful alliance of lobbyists and industry front groups who have set back the fight against climate change – and the push for clean energy independence – by two decades.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a leading player from the outset, is finally suffering mainstream exposure, as major companies abandoned ship in protest against the Chamber’s climate policy. Apple, Exelon, PNM Resources, PG&E, PSEG, Levi Strauss & Co, and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce have all quit; and Nike stepped down from the Chamber board of directors. All cited embarrassment over Chamber climate policy as the cause.

The Chamber brought this rift upon itself.

Vice President Bill Kovacs triggered the humiliation during the summer when he suggested that the Environmental Protection Agency be subjected to a Scopes monkey trial to review the science behind man-made climate change. Kovacs back-pedaled as soon as mainstream media picked up the story, but not in time to stop the exodus of Chamber members who wanted to distance themselves from the Chamber’s anti-science position.

Last week, Mother Jones revealed that the Chamber has also been inflating its membership numbers by 1,000 per cent. While the Chamber has been claiming to represent “more than three million” U.S. businesses, in reality, it has just 300,000 business members. That still could be seen as an impressive number but, at less than 1% of all American companies, it hardly justifies the Chambers claim to be “the voice of business” in the United States.

Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein published an excellent piece on the Chamber’s inflated membership, noting “how disingenuous the Chamber has become in its Washington lobbying.” Even the White House joined in the Chamber pile-on.

Pity Rex Murphy. At this point, he has no place to go.

For years, Canada’s most famous climate denier —- a national broadcaster, columnist and author -— has  railed against science.

He’s positioned himself as a kind of noble dissident, one of but a few remaining voices of “reason” questioning the motives of the more than 450 lead-author scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Now he’s inched further out on his already cracking and splintering limb with a column that equates climate activists such as Al Gore with crazed zealots. The occasion is the release of Canadian Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s new green-economy platform, which the parliamentarian calls “the most significant investment in clean energy jobs this country has ever seen.”

To support his case that this sort of patently irresponsible talk could lead the nation into hemp-nutter land, Murphy turns to an error-riddled but widely-circulated October report written by Paul Hudson, a BBC weatherman with no scientific credentials or expertise.

Hudson’s report regurgitates the same old arguments that fossil-fuel-industry front groups have been feeding us for years in an effort to sustain the illusion that the jury is still out on global warming.

Clearly, Murphy is grasping at straws. “This is, or may be, the church of global warming’s Galileo moment - when observation of what is happening trumps the gloomy choir of consensus,” he writes.

I almost feel bad for the guy.

Here we have a man who has quite literally yammered himself into a corner. As the nation and the world finally begin to grapple with the reality of our situation and the hard work and new opportunities that lie ahead, Murphy has left himself no dignified exit strategy.

And so, like a cornered raccoon, he resorts to officious spitting and hissing about climate zealots, heresies, and piety.

Edelman Oilsands Advice - Embarrassing and Wrong

It is often infuriating to see the advice that my PR colleagues are giving to compromised companies, but sometimes it’s just embarrassing.

Such was the case with the advice that Edelman Public Relations principal Richard Edelman was doling out to the tar sands industry this week. Edelman was quoted in the Vancouver Sun telling tar sands insiders at a conference in Alberta that they should start pushing their position on Facebook and Twitter.

“You have to go where the conversations are,” he said.

This is bad advice on so many counts.

American Petroleum Institute Astroturf campaign: When Does "Spin" Become a Lie?

The New York Times added its voice today to those condemning the American Petroleum Institute’s Astroturf campaign to set up phony “citizen” protests that are actually populated by paid energy industry employees.

Beyond the fundamental duplicity of API’s actions, the NYT complains in its editorial that it finds some elements of the industry campaign “particularly annoying.” For example, API says the Waxman-Markey climate legislation will result in $4-a-gallon gasoline, while two very reputable analyses have said the bill will add, at most, 20 cents a gallon.

In a world polluted by some of the worst kind of public relations spin, people have grown too ready to accept this kind of dramatic overstatement as “part of the game.” Even the NYT finds this exaggeration merely “annoying,” even if particularly so.

We should be outraged. API is offering no rationale or justification for its overheated rhetoric. It has been challenged on this point and failed to come up with an explanation or analysis that support the $4 claim. And yet its campaigners keep saying that which is insupportable by evidence.

What do you call that - usually?

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