This is the story of how a Michigan public relations firm, Lambert, Edwards and Associates, hired by hidden financial interests, created a chain of nonprofit organizations designed to fool the public into thinking that green energy is supported by political conservatives. In the public relations industry this is called grassroots mobilization. Critics call it astroturfing, an analogy with the imitation grass product Astroturf.
The scheme has been implemented by creating “front” organizations with names like the Conservative Energy Network, the Land and Liberty Coalition, Conservative Texans for Energy Innovation and the Pennsylvania Conservative Energy Forum. The front organizations are designed to look like authentic citizen groups but are really agents of the wind and solar industry.
Time Tested PR Method
The concept of hidden influencers is not new. Edward Bernays, often considered the first modern ad man, wrote the 1928 book, Propaganda. His thinking is encapsulated by this quote: “We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.”
The front organizations serve to help green energy companies overcome the problem of local objections to the development or operation new or existing wind or solar industrial facilities raised by local land owners before rural county governing boards. Such boards often respond to local protests by denying permits to build wind or solar farms. Astroturf, fake conservative outfits, are used lobby and convince these mostly conservative boards to approve new facilities, despite local opposition.
‘Conservative Energy Network’
The Conservative Energy Network, or CEN, is the central organization created for a number of state-based “grassroots” mobilization efforts. Its headquarters in Lansing, Michigan is conveniently located one block away from the PR firm, Lambert, that controls it.
CEN has an operating budget of approximately $4 million. But the overall spending on grassroots mobilization is considerably larger when the payments to the PR firm are included.
The organization Influence Watch exposed CEN by pointing out it is partially financed by left wing foundations that don’t normally fund genuine conservatives. CEN’s main source of funding seems likely to be the wind and solar industries themselves, but that information is carefully hidden.
There are approximately 20 organizations in the chain of nonprofits spawned by CEN, ranging from organizations with several staff to organizations that are little more than Facebook pages. Many of the professional staffers at CEN and its affiliates are actually employees of the Lambert PR firm. The president of CEN, Mark Pischea was identified an employee of Lambert. In other affiliate organizations, it is clear that staff salaries are not coming from the organization where they work, because the organization’s budget, as shown in the tax returns, is too small. Many of the affiliate staffers were previously, or still are, employees of Lambert or the PR firm Sterling, a firm acquired by Lambert.
Astroturf State Affiliates
Six of the affiliate organizations in different midwestern states have the name Land and Liberty Coalition. This group has its headquarters in office space shared with CEN. Jackson G. Keith is the director that oversees operation staff of the Land and Liberty Coalition in six midwestern states. Keith shows up as a former member of the senior management at the Sterling Corporation. The Land and Liberty affiliates seem to be focused on the idea that if landowners want to lease their land for a wind farm their private property rights should not be infringed.
Another frontgroup, Conservative Texans for Energy Innovation, has also been investigated by Influence Watch. Their address is a mail drop in Austin. Although Texas is a republican leaning state, it has a very large and very foolish wind system. The Conservative Texans organization claims to favor “market-based solutions that allow fair competition and provide greater access to clean, affordable and reliable energy.”
This is absurd because renewable energy is sheltered from the market by government laws. Nor is green energy affordable or reliable.
It can be difficult to figure out if a front organization is real. For example, the Indiana Conservative Alliance for Energy lists its address and telephone number as the same as a political consulting firm, Hathaway Strategies. Its president, Tim Phelps, works for Hathaway. Its executive director, Jared Noblitt, may or may not be paid by the Indiana Conservative Alliance. He is also listed as part of the Indiana team of the Land and Liberty Coalition.
The professional staff in front organizations are mostly young persons who have worked in political campaigns or in public relations for firms promoting renewable energy businesses. These firm’s advisors and volunteers are mostly older republican types who work professionally in communications roles.
Descriptions Not Informative
A lot of the material in the various websites is patronizing and heavy handed. It sounds like something a liberal pretending to be a conservative would write. This is from “what we believe” on the CEN website:
“The future of clean energy must be rescued from failed leftist policies and returned to its roots in conservation and conservatism. American energy policy must derive from a fierce sense of patriotism, technological innovation and entrepreneurship, a respect for individual rights and liberties over government intrusion, and reverence for God and His creation. These are the same principles upon which CEN was founded.”
Staff bios often tell us that the staffer is fan of a particular sports team. Apparently, the PR pros think all conservatives are serious sports fans.
There are poorly informed conservatives that support green energy. Some of these are recruited as supporters of the CEN network.
False Claims about Renewable Competitiveness
The wind and solar industries have extensive and effective propaganda.
They make wildly false claims, for example claiming that wind and solar are cheaper than using fossil fuels to generate electricity. If these claims were true, they would not clamor for or need continued government support. The reality is that green energy exists only because it is politically supported, with subsidies, and mandates that force utilities to use green energy.
Overpriced and government protected industries are not usually backed by conservatives.
The various state affiliates of CEN share similar slogans and propaganda. For example, advocating for the use of “all of the above” types of energy. The “all of the above” narrative is an attempt to promote wind and solar energy as equal players with traditional fossil fuels. But wind and solar are at least five times more costly than fossil fuel electricity. Wind and solar are subsidized and protected by the federal and state governments, due to the influence of the environmental lobby, and “Big Green” front groups.
Those that can afford to secretly spend millions to influence public opinion may have greater staying power than the true grassroots. But they are always in danger of exposure.
Norman Rogers (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, and the author of the book: Dumb Energy: A Critique of Wind and Solar Energy. His website is renewablepuzzle.com.