Artists Against Fracking … and Lobbying Disclosure?
The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York has filed a complaint against Artists Against Fracking for failing to register as lobbyists under New York law. The “artists,” many of whom are far wealthier than the families upstate to whom they want to deny economic opportunity, are also using a known commodity in the scare-the-public approach to public policy advocacy.
Artists Against Fracking — led by famed geologist and petroleum engineer Yoko Ono* — bills itself as group of 200 “artists” who have joined together to stop hydraulic fracturing in New York. The reality, however, paints a far different picture. AAF is little more than another unaccountable informal group that gives a different face to the same sort of NIMBY activism that will, in effect, force upstate New York into perpetual pastoral poverty.
AAF consists of people such as Josh Fox, Yoko Ono, Sean Ono Lennon, Alec Baldwin, Lady Gaga and Mark Ruffalo. There’s nothing particularly striking about these entertainers in terms of their scientific pedigree, and certainly nothing suggesting that they should be taken seriously as designers of our energy policies. Nonetheless, they have a right to voice their opinion, which in this case means opposing the responsible development of natural gas — the same natural gas, coincidentally, that heats the artists’ own homes and workplaces.
AAF’s contact information lists an address in New York City that just so happens to be the same address of Fenton Communications. David Fenton, the founder of Fenton Communications, also serves as spokesperson for AAF.
Fenton Communications (FC) will ring some bells in the minds of some of our readers. It is closely associated with a number of special interest groups (e.g., EarthJustice, Environmental Working Group, and Riverkeeper), but is most notably aligned with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Fenton helped NRDC perpetuate the Alar scare in the 1980s, which turned out to be a huge embarrassment for both. Here is a concise summary of what happened:
In 1988 and 1989, FC helped one such organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), promote misleading claims about the dangers of Alar, a pesticide then in use by the apple industry. On the basis of NRDC’s study of Alar, itself based on exaggerated probabilities rather than concrete empirical data, FC launched a media campaign that stoked consumers’ fears and captured the interest of television news programs, daily newspapers and daytime talk shows, fueling a backlash against apple growers. By some estimates, the apple industry suffered $200 million in lost revenue as a result of the FC campaign.
By contrast, FC and its client prospered. David Fenton subsequently boasted that his firm had “designed” the media campaign “so that revenue would flow back to NRDC from the public,” noting that FC had gained “$700,000 in net revenues from it.” Fenton Communications today cites the Alar campaign as a significant contribution to the “national debate” on pesticides.
Whether one accepts this interpretation of events or not, this much is clear: Fenton Communications served as the NRDC’s arms and legs in the matter, though it mentions none of it on its website, which one would think the firm would do if it were proud of what it did.
So, what we have with AAF and Fenton is the same people doing the same thing they’ve done for years: creating scares to influence public policy. What was once was a dour-faced Meryl Streep worrying about apples is now Yoko Ono and her son singing about the dangers of natural gas. It would be impossible to conjure up such ludicrous scenarios if they were not true, but that’s what happened — all engineered by a progressive PR firm serving the interests of New York’s wealthiest NIMBYs, and at the expense of hardworking men and women in the Southern Tier.
Ironically, Fenton’s reputation for making shallow claims that don’t stand up to rigorous examination make for a perfect fit with AAF. Energy In Depth has debunked Josh Fox’s movie Gasland. We followed Yoko Ono and Sean Ono Lennon around Dimock, Pa., as the two searched in vain for compelling evidence of pollution. They tried hard to make Dimock out to be a toxic wasteland, but the images and facts told a far different story. Ms. Ono’s letter to the editor in the New York Times suffered from a similar dearth of fact-based information.
The seriousness of the other entertainers involved in Artists Against Fracking may be judged by their actions. Alec Baldwin speaks so well for himself that nothing further is needed (especially aboard an American Airlines flight). Then there is Lady Gaga (famous for wearing a dress made of red meat) and Mark Ruffalo, who is most famous today for playing the Incredible Hulk.
This is Artists Against Fracking, and tragically, the cast of characters isn’t even the worst part.
IOGA of New York has issued a formal complaint that the group has been in violation of the state’s Lobbying Act, asking the Joint Commission on Public Ethics to investigate, among other things: AAF’s purchase of a full page ad in the New York Times, creating a website, and directly attempting to sway the Governor’s decision via television and billboard advertising, all without registering as lobbyists as the law requires.
The bigger problem, however, is identified in the last part of the IOGA letter, which can be read below.
According to the StarGazette,
The complaint is based on an AP story that found that Artists Against Fracking and its members, including Ono, her son Sean Lennon, actors Mark Ruffalo and Robert De Niro and others, aren’t registered as lobbyists and therefore didn’t disclose their spending in opposition to hydraulic fracturing or fracking, to remove gas from underground deposits.
AAF also accepts donations, but the money goes to the Sustainable Markets Foundation — which also takes dollars from the Park and Rockefeller Foundations and filters it without anyone knowing where it is coming from or how much is involved. Boy, if that isn’t “peaceful democratic action” then what is?
In the end, we have a situation that has played out far too often: old money and Hollywood celebrities buying influence to squelch new opportunity. It’s not pretty, and it’s certainly not art. It’s just a group of people trying to tell the rest of us what we can do with our lives, even as they enjoy the luxuries (i.e. natural gas) that they think the middle class should have to do without. And worst of all, they might be doing it while avoiding the laws that the rest of us have to follow.
*Ms. Ono is actually neither a geologist nor a petroleum engineer.