coal power killsCourtesy Daquella manera via FlickrAstroturfing – the corporate practice of funding initiatives that mimic “grassroots” support for an issue – has been getting a lot of attention these days, after it came to light that a pro-coal group was ultimately behind forged letters to Congress on the climate bill. But the practice is neither new nor rare, and we can expect to see similar actions over the next weeks as representatives return to their home districts for August recess.

Grist reported yesterday that the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, the group whose money ultimately funded the forged letters, has planned a $1 million ad and “volunteer” blitz over the August congressional recess aimed at Senate Democrats in coal-dependent states. The group plans to organize 225,000 “volunteers” in what its calling “America’s Power Army,” to attend town hall meetings, fairs and other functions attended by members of Congress. ACCCE’s paid staff will work to round up volunteers, providing them with “information or T-shirts” and encouraging them to ask questions of the legislators.

The group is also leading a “road trip in search of a better climate solution” over recess, which you can follow on Twitter. The tour is stopping in the states of various fence-sitting Democrats. Via Twitter, ACCCE staffers offer such insight as, “Team Ohio love Dougs Claaaic burgers and Affordable Energy” and “Leroy, who works at a local steel company thinks affordable clean coal is the future.”

ACCCE spokesman Joe Lucas maintains that “this is the purest form of grassroots …. It’s facilitating constituents to talk one-on-one with members of Congress.” Except, ACCCE has the pockets of Big Coal backing it, with its members including giants like Southern Company, Peabody Energy Corp, and Arch Coal.

ACCCE officials also said that despite the forged letters fiasco (which has prompted a congressional investigation and a campaign urging the Department of Justice to investigate whether wire fraud was committed), they intend to work with Hawthorn Group on this new project. Hawthorn, if you haven’t been following the play-by-play, is the ACCCE contractor that in turn subcontracted with Bonner & Associates, the group that sent the forged letters. “We’re not going to throw the baby out with the bath water here,” said Lucas.

ACCCE is also subcontracting astroturf work to the Lincoln Strategy Group, a firm with a not-so-great record on voter fraud, reports ThinkProgress.

This type of campaign is nothing new for ACCCE. I ran into them while covering the presidential primaries last year. Back then, ACCCE was handing out coal shirts, hats, and pens to people as they waited in line to attend candidate events, to create the appearance of widespread support for their cause. I also encountered coal-powered street teams at the Democratic and Republican national conventions last summer, where they were handing out maps, buttons, and boxes of breath mints stamped with the ACCCE logo. The group dropped somewhere between $35 million and $45 million on advertising last year, so putting in $1 million over August recess is small potatoes, really.

But coal isn’t the only dirty-energy industry orchestrating fake “grassroots” activity around the country over recess. The oil and gas business is getting in on the action, via astroturf surrogates at FreedomWorks, a conservative action group backed by oil and gas industry giant Koch Industries. The groups have also been heavily involved in organizing the so-called Tea Party Protests around the country.

On Wednesday, FreedomWorks issued an “August Action Recess Packet” that will be distributed at events around the country. The packet provides talking points to bring up at events with legislators. Among them:

What?
The Waxman-Markey cap and trade legislation recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. In September the Senate will take up this legislation and it’s critical that freedom loving citizens come together to stop it from passing.

Why?

  • Waxman-Markey cap and trade could more accurately be called “cap and tax” as it threatens to impose huge new costs to energy consumers.
  • Various economic analysis estimate the costs of Waxman-Markey-like legislation to the American household would be between $800 and $1,300 by 2015.
  • Waxman-Markey would cost American jobs. An analysis conducted in 2007 of the kind of policy approach contained in Waxman-Markey estimated as many as 1.2 million to 2.3 million jobs would be lost.
  • The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has said that the policy contained in Waxman-Markey puts upward pressure on gasoline, heating oil, and electricity costs. Analyses shows that gas prices could even climb back up to $4 a gallon. This is the hidden tax that Waxman-Markey threatens to impose on American energy consumers!

The packs also include invitations that people can pass along to events with their legislators. Media Matters has more on the action pack, which somehow fails to mention that many of FreedomWorks fossil-fuels backers stand to lose under the climate bill.

FreedomWorks is also chaired by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who now works for the lobbying firm DLA Piper, which has lobbied on behalf of a number of energy industry clients. Armey himself recently suggested that it is “pretentious” to believe humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels might be warming the planet.

Another astroturf group trying to drum up opposition to the climate bill over recess is Americans for Prosperity. The group has been leading a “Hot Air Tour” to combat what it calls “global warming alarmism.” The tour includes an actual balloon claiming that the climate bill will create “lost jobs, higher taxes, less freedom.”

Americans for Prosperity is also funded largely by Koch Industries. It also received funding from ExxonMobil, back when the organizations was known as Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation, before changing its name in 2003.  Tim Phillips, the group’s leader, tried to deny their relationship to Exxon on the Rachel Maddow Show on Thursday, in a segment detailing how AFP and other astroturf groups are using a variety of tactics create the impression that most Americans are opposed to action on health care and energy.

Not to be forgotten, Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions for Winning the Future (of “Drill Here, Drill Now” fame) is also jumping into the astroturf game, running an anti-climate bill petition on its website and  providing “tools” for the recess. His group is heavily funded by Peabody, American Electric Power, and other oil and gas producers. Gingrich has also signed on as an official cosponsor of the tea-baggers movement.