Astroturf Troopers

How the polluters' lobby uses phony front groups to attack the Kyoto treaty.

| Thu Dec. 4, 1997 1:00 AM PST

In the battle to shape public opinion on global warming, the big polluters are fighting dirty. In tandem with their air war of bogus advertising, the major carbon-emitting industries are mobilizing phony grassroots troops on the ground to lobby against the global Climate Change Treaty being negotiated this week in Kyoto, Japan. And some of those troops would be right at home in Tim McVeigh's militia unit.

The Global Climate Coalition (GCC), run by Washington P.R. firm Ruder Finn, represents the big oil, gas, coal, and auto corporations. And while its stated mission is to coordinate "the active involvement of U.S. business in the scientific and policy debates," a MoJo investigation found that GCC is also coordinating a secret coalition of extreme right-wingers and astroturf groups—fake grassroots lobbyists funded by conservative foundations and corporations—including so-called "Wise Use" radicals, John Birchers, Lyndon LaRouchites, and anti-UN New World Order conspiracists.

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GCC chairman William O'Keefe, an executive with the American Petroleum Institute, kickstarted this secret coalition in 1996 when he hired former lobbyist Susan Moya to set up a national network of "grassroots" groups, a network that now includes dozens of industry-funded astroturf groups in several states.

Moya denied the existence of her astroturf network, but the MoJo Wire has obtained a memo that says otherwise, written by Moya herself. Moya and GCC refused to answer questions about their grassroots setup, but some of the corporate-funded astroturf groups named in her memo, including Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy and People for the West, confirmed that they were part of Moya's network of "state grassroots leaders," and that they received this memo. Moya's network also includes right-wing extremist groups, some of them downright wacky:

 

  • At a GCC "grassroots" strategy meeting this spring—held at the swank Washington offices of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association—executives and lobbyists from the oil, auto, and utilities industries listened intently as Sovereignty International chairman Henry Lamb boasted that his Wise Use anti-environmental network could deliver thousands of astroturf phone calls urging Congress to spike the Kyoto treaty, says a business lobbyist who attended the meeting. (Lamb also labeled Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.) a "socialist" for his efforts to curb pollution in New England.) Duly impressed, GCC chairman O'Keefe, who was directing the meeting, pledged to give Lamb whatever resources he needed for astroturf lobbying.

    So what? So Sovereignty International is a leading promoter of United Nations paranoia, claiming that environmentalism is part of a plot to establish a "one world government." The group was founded in 1988 by Lamb; Tom McDonnell of the American Sheep Industry Association, who has collaborated with Lyndon LaRouche followers; and Dr. Michael Coffman, a self-styled expert on global environmentalism who did a national speaking tour this summer sponsored by the John Birch Society. His topic: The U.N.-corporate-environmentalist conspiracy to seize private land in America, hand it over to wild animals, and herd all the humans into crowded communities.

     

  • In June, GCC President Gail McDonald was an unscheduled speaker at the seventh annual Fly-In for Freedom, the anti-environment lobbying blitz on Washington run by the Alliance for America, which networks more than 600 Wise Use groups nationwide. Though her name didn't appear on Fly-In materials, McDonald appeared on a panel on global environmental issues, and gave a presentation to the assembled anti-enviros. Her message was familiar: Global warming is just a theory, and even if it's real, it can't be blamed on the CO2 polluter industries. McDonald, a former Clinton appointee turned corporate lobbyist, also spoke briefly at a Fly-In luncheon sponsored by People for the West—a mining industry front that blames environmentalists for Western economic woes.

     

  • In November, GCC organized a "national conference" in Washington, D.C. opposing the Clinton administration's position on global warming. Invited speakers, representing groups like the United Mine Workers and the South Carolina Black Chamber of Commerce, complained that the Kyoto treaty "could raise taxes, drive up consumer prices and change American lifestyles." But while the guest list seemed pretty mainstream, GCC's conference was sponsored by radical anti-enviros and astroturfers, including Clean Water Act foes the American Farm Bureau Federation, mining front group People For the West, and the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), an anti-environmental umbrella group run by New World Order crank Henry Lamb. Founded and funded by land developers, ECO claims to network more than 300 Wise Use groups, most of them funded by the extractive industries. For an in-depth look at ECO and its ties to other right-wing and corporate astroturf groups fighting the Kyoto treaty, click here.

     

  • Dogging the EPA's regional workshops on global warming this year was Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), perhaps the premier corporate-funded astroturf crew. To protest the Kyoto treaty, CSE fielded handfuls of demonstrators in Dallas in October, Atlanta and Chicago in September, and Boston in June—some of them sporting military camouflage, blue helmets, and signs saying "50 Cent U.N. Gas Tax." The Dallas stunt (see photo above) was co-sponsored by the National Center for Policy Analysis, a corporate-funded free-market think tank. CSE's Patrick Burns appears on Moya's contact list—when we asked Burns if his group had coordinated its "grassroots" demonstrations with the GCC, he hung up the phone.


    EPA's global warming Web site offers in-depth explanations of the science and the treaty. Corporate Watch's Kyoto site tracks big-business influence on the treaty negotiations. The Environmental Working Group's CLEAR site tracks hundreds of anti-environmental groups and their funders, complete with a searchable database.

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