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Center for Public Integrity Reveals How PR Firms Manufacture Consent for Oil, Big Business

By Steve Horn - Posted on 17 January 2015

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The Center for Public Integrity has broken new ground by publishing a months-long investigation into the public relations and influence-peddling spending conducted by Big Business trade associations between 2008-2012.

That investigation highlights spending for trade associations ranging from the American Petroleum Institute, National Mining AssociationEdison Electric Institute, America's Natural Gas Association and many others not in the oil, gas and coal industry. The energy industrial complex, though, by far spent the most on public relations according to the Center.

Image Credit: Center for Public Integrity

API by far spent the most money on public relations according to the Center's analysis, which explained its research methodology as a side-bar to the story.

Image Credit: Center for Public Integrity

The methodology involved digging into Internal Revenue Service 990 forms, which list the top five contractors paid by trade associations, as long as the payments total more than $100,000. The Center explained that because some trade associations often leave descriptions vague in terms of what the money went toward, it made tracking the data all the more difficult. 

"[T]rade groups often vaguely describe the services their top contractors provide as 'professional fees' or 'consulting,'" they wrote. "Because many firms offer a wide range of services, it’s often unclear exactly what kind of work was done on the industry associations’ behalf."

Public Relations Over Lobbying

The Center's investigation focuses in particular on the fact that public relations efforts now trump lobbying efforts in terms of at-large spending for major trade associations. 

Image Credit: Center for Public Integrity

Why more spending on PR and advertising and less on lobbying? Because "manufacturing consent" of the public, to use the namesake of the 1988 book by scholar Noam Chomsky, matters and it works. Steve Barrett, editor-in-chief of the PR industry trade publication PR Week, agrees. 

“They certainly want to influence the general public,” Barrett told the Center, “because the general public will then influence the politicians, the lawmakers or the regulators in that particular industry.”

The investigation comes just two months after DeSmogBlog and Republic Report jointly released the first installment of an ongoing investigation exposing the government-industry revolving door and influence-peddling peddling machine going to bat on behalf of fracked gas exports.

Edelman Takes the Cake

According to the Center's investigation, Edelman has gobbled up lucrative trade association contracts more than anyone else in terms of dollar amounts. This is something Kert Davies, head of the Climate Investigations Center and former head of research at Greenpeace USA, pointed out in an article explaining the importance of the Center's work. 

"The Edelman - API relationship accounted for over a quarter of all spending compiled by CPI and Edelman received a grand total of $347 million (2008-2012) from all its various trade association contracts," wrote Davies.

"The CPI report's revelations are striking, even for jaded climate/clean energy advocates. We knew Edelman was getting a lot of oil money from API and from various oil companies like Exxon and TransCanada, but its really a LOT of money, ranging from $33 to $75 million per year from American Petroleum Institute alone since 2008. Again, adding 2013 to the CPI compiled data, API has paid Edelman over $360 Million (2008-2013)."

Davies also unpacked far more about the history of the relationship between Edelman and API, also noting the crucial role played by mega-firm FleishmanHillard

Center for Public Integrity's long-form investigation digs into far more than just the energy industry influence-peddling machine and is worth reading in full

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