Response to James Inhofe's Statements to Rachel Maddow on Climate Shift Report
Specific to climate change and energy related activities, environmental groups outspent conservative groups and their industry association allies $394 million to $259 million.
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) appeared on the March 15, 2012 MSNBC Rachel Maddow program to discuss his book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. On the program, Inhofe cited findings from the April 2011 Climate Shift report comparing 2009 revenue and spending estimates for 45 environmental groups that had campaigned for action on climate change with similar totals for 42 conservative think tanks, advocacy groups, and industry associations.
Below I have posted the transcript of the relevant exchange with Maddow as well as a video clip edited to be specific to the exchange. I follow with several corrections to Inhofe's characterization of the report's findings and offer additional context. In their exchange, Inhofe conflates the totals for spending on all program activities by these opposing coalitions of non-profit organizations with totals spent on lobbying by aligned corporations.
MADDOW: I got to say, let me -- let me bring up one other thing.You joke in your book, when people ask you how much of your campaign contributions come from the energy industry, you answer "not enough," which is a very funny answer and your top three donors are Koch Industries, big part of their business is petroleum refining; Murray Industry, a coal company; and Devin Energy, which is an oil and gas natural company.
INHOFE: And they`re a great group. Let me mention to you --
MADDOW: Hold on. Let me just ask you a question -- why wouldn`t a reasonable person learn that about you and assume that your anti-global warming, pro-fossil fuel stance is what your donors are paying for?
INHOFE: Because we hear things about big oil, what you named there is not all that big of oil. But it doesn`t really make any difference. There`s an article that you would love, and I dare say you haven`t seen it yet. It was in "Nature" magazine, a very liberal publication, or publication on your side, and they talk about this thing from American University, and they analyze.
They say, why is it we, on the global warming side, are not winning? We are spending more money, we have the media on our side eight to ten, 80 percent of the media is on our side, yet we`re losing. And then they go into the detail as to how much money actually comes out.
Did you know, and I dare say a lot of your guys on your program in your camp don`t realize that the environmentalist groups raised, and this is in the period of 2009-2010, $1.7 billion as opposed to the other side, $900 million. So, you`re talking about spending twice as much money. And that`s --
MADDOW: You think that the environmental groups have more money to spend on this issue than the entire energy industry?
MADDOW: The energy industry is the poor partner here?
INHOFE: You get to MoveOn.org, the George Soros, the Michael Moores, and all the Hollywood elites, and all your good friends out there -- yes, they sure do.
MADDOW: I would put Michael Moore up against Exxon any day.
INHOFE: Hey, Rachel, this is in their article.
INHOFE: And, again, it pretty well-documented. So, I suggest you read that, maybe the most recent copy. Anyway, about the study that was done by American University.
The correct context for understanding these findings and spending figures are as follows and are provided in FAQ format.
How did you arrive at the conclusion that environmental groups hold an overall resource and spending edge over conservative/industry association groups?
In the main analysis conducted in Chapter 1 of the report, my goal was to estimate the overall organizational resources and capacity of the opposing networks of green groups and conservative/ industry association groups.
The 45 environmental groups were selected from among the major national environmental organizations analyzed by political scientist Christopher Bosso in his book Environment Inc: From Grassroots to Beltway, an award-winning study of the history, financing and political strategies of the U.S. environmental movement. The 45 analyzed organizations coordinated their work through alliances such as the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, the Green Group, Clean Energy Works and The Partnership Project.
For conservative groups and industry associations, the analysis included a list of 42 organizations that had opposed cap and trade legislation, had dismissed expert consensus on climate science through various communication strategies and/or had exaggerated the economic costs of action. These conservative and industry organizations had been identified and analyzed in previous scholarly studies and in investigations conducted by journalists, environmentalists and others.
Estimates on spending are compiled from Internal Revenue Service filings and annual reports. Records from 2009 are analyzed, the year for which data is most recently available. In this year, cap and trade legislation passed in the U.S. House, debate began on a U.S. Senate version of the bill, and international climate accord meetings took place in Copenhagen.
In the majority of cases, environmental groups provided specific information in their annual reports and tax documents on how much was spent on climate change and energy-related program activities. Details and sources of these estimates are provided in the notes to each table and/or in the end notes to the chapter. [More Info]
Figures on spending specific to climate change and energy policy were not provided by conservative think tanks, groups and industry associations. Estimates based on a review of annual reports and web sites are used with details specific to these estimates in the notes to each table and in the main text of the chapter. [More Info]
Here is the main finding from the chapter on the financial capacity and resources of these two opposing coalitions of non-profit organizations.
In total, the environmental groups analyzed in 2009 brought in $1.7 billion in revenue, spent $1.4 billion on program activities, and spent an estimated $394 million on climate change and energy-specific activities. The combined program spending of environmental organizations ($1.4 billion) is almost twice as much as the combined program spending of conservative organizations and industry associations ($787 million). Specific to climate change and energy related activities, environmental groups outspent conservative groups and their industry association allies $394 million to $259 million.
Within this overall spending, what could environmental groups spend their money on?
As Chapter 1 discusses in detail, environmental groups as mostly 501C3 organizations were allowed to spend unlimited sums on public education which includes advertising and communication efforts advocating generally for a need for action on climate change or a general cap on emissions. They could also spend unlimited sums on think tank style analysis and information dissemination.
Apart from contacts from their members, most groups were capped at $250,000 (or less) in spending on legislative mobilization of the general public which involves requesting that they urge Congress to vote for specific legislation and $1,000,000 on direct lobbying. Industry associations have no such limits.
How does your analysis provide new insight on the data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics?
This section of the chapter builds on our understanding of the data provided in the past by the Center for Responsive Politics, which has grouped lobbying totals by the Energy and Natural Resources sector versus the Environment sector. In my analysis, I go beyond these aggregate lobbying totals, by looking at specific companies and organizations across many sectors (i.e. financial, retail etc) that registered to lobby on the bill and were on record as supporters or opponents, providing a finer grained understanding of lobbying expenditures. I also unpack the Energy and Natural Resources data, looking at specific groups within this diverse sector that either supported or opposed cap and trade legislation. Here’s how that section to the report concludes, emphasizing the limits of what can be said about the lobbying data:
With the exception of the figures for the environmental groups, this comparison of lobbying expenditures across coalitions should not be interpreted as reflecting the actual amounts spent on cap and trade legislation. Instead, in the aggregate, these totals are representative of the capacity for power and influence that each side could apply in 2009. Through their work building coalitions and alliances, the environmental groups were able to forge a network of organizations that spent a combined $229 million on lobbying across all issues. In comparison, the network of prominent opponents of cap and trade legislation spent $272 million lobbying across all issues. These figures represent a dramatically reduced power difference compared with past legislative debates over climate change.
If major corporations partnered with environmental groups in announcing their support for cap and trade but did not spend resources lobbying in support, what are the implications?
Following the release of the Climate Shift report, several environmental groups argued that their aligned USCAP corporate partners did little to actually lobby in support of the cap and trade bill. If this is the case, more disclosure should take place about the exact role and resources these corporate partners devoted to the cap and trade battle. This would help inform decision-making as to whether relying on corporate partners is a reliable strategy for the future. If corporate partners cannot be relied on, then it suggests that a big omnibus, regulatory solution bill like cap and trade (i.e. a legislative battle on the scale, if not greater than health care reform) may not be possible and instead other policy paths need to be taken.
How do Inhofe's comments compare to his consistent framing strategy on the issue of climate change?
In a 2009 paper published at the journal Environment, I spotlighted Inhofe's longstanding efforts at strategically framing the issue of climate change in ways that downplayed the urgency of the issue and undermined support for policy action. From the article:
What explains the stark differences between the objective reality of climate change and the partisan divide in Americans’ perceptions? In part, trusted sources have framed the nature and implications of climate change for Republicans and Democrats in very different ways.
Several conservative think tanks, political leaders, and commentators continue to hew closely to their decade-old playbook for downplaying the urgency of climate change, which includes questioning whether human activities drive climate change while also arguing that any action to curb it will lead to dire economic consequences. Even over the past several years, as Republican leaders such as U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger have urged for action on global warming, the strength of these decade-old frames linger as salient in popular culture, political discourse, and the memory store of many audiences.23
During the 1990s, based on focus groups and polling, Republican consultant Frank Luntz helped shape the climate skeptic playbook, recommending in a strategy memo to lobbyists and Republican members of Congress that the issue be framed as scientifically uncertain, using opinions of contrarian scientists as evidence. He also wrote that the “emotional home run” would be an emphasis on the dire economic consequences of action, impacts that would result in an “unfair burden” on Americans if other countries such as China and India did not participate in international agreements.24
This framing strategy was effectively incorporated into talking points, speeches, white papers, and advertisements by conservative think tanks and members of Congress to defeat major policy proposals along with the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that would have committed the United States to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.25 The communication campaign also promoted distortions in news coverage.....
....U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), former chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, remains the loudest voice of climate skepticism. In speeches, press releases, and on his Senate Web log, Inhofe casts doubt on the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other major scientific organizations, selectively citing scientific-sounding evidence. To amplify his message, Inhofe takes advantage of the fragmented news media, with appearances at television outlets, such as Fox News, on political talk radio, and Web traffic driven to his blog from the Drudge Report.27
For example, in a February 2007 Fox & Friends segment titled, “Weather Wars,” Inhofe deceptively argued that global warming was in fact due to natural causes and mainstream science was beginning to accept this conclusion. Inhofe asserted, unchallenged by host Steve Doocy, “those individuals on the far left, such as Hollywood liberals and the United Nations,” want the public to believe that global warming is manmade. Similar frames of scientific uncertainty and economic consequences continue to be pushed by other conservative commentators, including influential syndicated columnists George Will, Charles Krauthammer, and Tony Blankley.28
Nisbet, M.C. (2011, April). Climate Shift: Clear Vision for the Next Decade of Public Debate. Washington, DC: School of Communication, American University.
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