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Jan 23, 2008

A Banner Year For Corporate Debate Sponsors?

Drexel-AstraBack in October, following the Democratic debate at Drexel University, I was doing my usual run through the pictures when I landed on a page at the Huffington Post "Off The Bus" project.

The entry featured a "behind the scenes" video by a young, indy media group called GroundReport.  As the young reporter, Rachel Sterne, moved from campaign and media operations outside the Main Building Auditorium to the debate setting inside, something caught my eye.

Behind Ms. Sterne, on the far wall of the media's filing room, I noticed a banner for Walmart.  What then attracted my notice -- while Ms. Sterne was interviewing Carl Cameron, the Chief Political Correspondent for FOX -- was a large banner over his shoulder for $18 billion drug giant, Astra Zeneca.

At the time, I did a screen grab of the pharmaceutical banner, but sort of forgot about it.

What rekindled my interest, however, was the buzz on Monday over the coal industry's sponsorship of at least three CNN debates.  If you missed it, the coal industry has created a front group called Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC) which has a $35 million ad budget in states with primaries and caucuses to snow the public on the idea of "clean coal."

What is most disturbing, however, is the fact that, in those three debates -- including the one Monday night in South Carolina, as well as the CNN/YouTube debates in Nevada and Florida -- not one question was asked about global warming.

I know there are watchdogs, including Open, which track corporate influence over the Commission for Public Debates (CPD), the organization that governs the debates once each party has selected a nominee.  In searching the web for information on corporate sponsorship of party debates, however, I couldn't tell how these banners showed up, or how a deal like the one with ABEC came about.

So here are a few questions:  First, who is selling corporate sponsorship to the party's presidential debates and what does it entail?  Second, what corporations (besides the media corporations themselves) have backed which debates, and what issues might have been left off of which as a result?  And third, but mostly: What is the point of the candidates sanctimoniously calling each other out on taking money from lobbyists, PACs and other corporate interests so long as big corporations can quietly buy a stake in the very forum and stage they happen to be pontificating on?

No Questions On Global Warming Asked At CNN’s Coal Industry-Sponsored Presidential Debates (ThinkProgress)
Americans for Balanced Energy Choices  Energy industry "clean coal" website
Corporate Sponsorship of the Commission for Public Debates (via Open Debate)
Behind The Scenes In Last Night's Debate Spin Room: CNN and Fox Open Up On Debate Coverage Tactics (Ground Report video)
Astra Zeneca  (wikipedia)

(screen shots: Ground Report)


A handy rule of thumb: If an organisation calls itself 'Citizens for...' 'Americans for... or 'Center for' such-and-such, chances are it's a front group for an existing status quo (thats makin' someone, somewhere, stacks of cash), or to rollback some existing safeguard.

This stuff is common practice particularly in the enviromental campaigning sphere.

The orgs are known as 'astroturf' groups, because they're fake 'grassroots' lobbyists who engage in 'greenwash'...

The issue of global warming is probably the single biggest challenge facing America’s energy sector. This issue not only affects electricity generators who use coal, natural gas, and oil to meet their customer’s electricity needs, but also could likely impact the types of cars we drive as consumers.

But the fact remains: there has never been an environmental challenge facing the coal-based electricity sector for which technology didn’t provide the ultimate solution – and those who are familiar with the advancements in carbon capture technology recognize that meeting the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector is not likely to be the exception to that rule.

That is why America’s coal-based electricity providers are working with Department of Energy on a $1.5 billion project to build a coal plant that captures close to 100% of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury. The “FutureGen” plant will capture carbon dioxide for permanent storage before it is released into the atmosphere. The plant will bury its heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions deep underground.

We are all fscked, nobody will do anything until the oil runs out. Ditto coal.

I gotta say, she's pretty hot.

That Davids comment is word for word the same as another comment placed on an environmental blog tends to support my point...

Its obviously a pre-formed statement by an organisation called 'Americans For Balanced Energy Choices'. (ABEC)

which appears to be a front for the US coal industry.

Now, 'Americas Power' might lie in 'clean' coal (not so clean for miners lungs), which the ABEC obviously campaigns for - but it might just as easily lie with renewables.

Except Gov't funding for that, is pitiful in comparison.

The real coming energy crisis is not Peak Oil, its the deliberate suppression and underfunding of already existing renewable technologies which could dig us out of the hole.

A related issue - that renewable energy is by definition not a scarce resource, is perhaps one reason why its not being pushed.

Those who control scarcity, have power. And theres little central power (or profit) to be gained in something thats free.

Sion, you beat me to the punch. I can't remember when a lobbyist spokesman responded to a critical post here at The BAG quite so fast. And yes, it reads like straight out of the PR department.

David, this is what's called a discussion thread. David (with the name that links back to the ABEC website), are you there? ...Hello?

OHH. we got a live one!!

So, David, if global warming is the biggest challenge, then why were there no questions about it to the candidates?

.. and why on Earth would any ordinary citizen organize to promote the burning of Coal as a good way forward if they weren't in the industry and making money from it? WHY?

And back to the pics... ANY sponsorship or product placement in the political arena is a load of CRAP. And all 3 are politically sensitive organizations. BIG DRUGS, Box Stores, and COAL. This isn't Ben and Jerry's we're talking about. John Edwards should take 30 seconds of his allotted time to wade through the crowd, over to the wall and RIP THOSE BANNERS DOWN.

Great catch-- we noticed the banners but didn't get into much commentary, though now I think it would have been useful. is an open news platform that aims to democratize the media-- because we know that it ultimately shapes public opinion and policy.

The debates illustrate the subtle but overwhelming influence of the media on politics-- from sponsors to guidelines that prevent outliers like Gravel participate, the media can steer the political discussion and alienate candidates.

This merely underscores what Ralph Nader said when he ran in 2000: both candidates, both parties are funded by the same corporations. When, oh, when, will we ever have a President elected by the people?

The Commission for Public debates is a corporate-sponsored entity. See here:

It is run by corporate lobbyists and supported by direct cash contributions from corporations, which in turn get to hang their banners, or - in the case of Anheuser Bush during the 200 debates, set up a hospitality tent to dispense free beer. This largess with alcohol is a practice that dates back to the beginning of the Republic, when ward bosses would buy the house a round in exchange for their votes.

An excerpt from the Open Debates website:

For the third 2000 presidential debate, Anheuser-Busch, which contributed $550,000 to the CPD, set up several information booths to distribute glossy pamphlets touting the benefits of consuming beer, denouncing "unfair" beer taxes and calling on the government to "avoid interfering" with beer drinking. Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank described his experience at the first 2000 presidential debate:

The whole campus is closed -- (ostensibly) to thwart terrorists, more likely to thwart Nader and Buchanan. Nader gets kicked out of the debate audience, even though he got himself a ticket from a student. He's threatening lawsuits. But I'm not worried about such things. I am inside the debate area, and I am delighted to find an Anheuser Busch refreshment tent, where there is beer flowing, snacks, Budweiser girls in red sweaters, the baseball playoffs on television, ping pong and fusbol.

Anyone get the IP number of that driveby coal lobby poster "David With ABEC"?

I'd sure like to see someone (Sourcewatch?) start a database identifying where they're coming from online.

Heck, I'd like a Firefox extension, or Google tool, or blackhole list -- like the ones that block known spammers -- for these PR industry robot posters.

It's the lying that bothers me mostly. FutureGen failed.

I wonder if "David from ABEC" was lying or so uninformed he was posting outdated PR pieces.

I'm sure the PR department that pays "David from ABEC" knew last week that the 'FutureGen' plant isn't happening.

I know I'm a little late to the party here but...

I'm tired of the endless commercials from "Americans for Balanced Energy Choices" (the coal lobbying group). First they sponsored the Presidential debates and surprise! CNN suddenly stopped asking questions about global warming and energy policy. To have one of the biggest toxic polluters in the country sponsoring a Presidential debate just struck me as wrong (and to have CNN take a dive for a corporate sponsor is infuriating). Now the coal lobby is running these same ads during "The Situation Room" on CNN.

So I decided to do something about it. I took the commercial from the coal lobby and remade it -- stripping out their lies and replacing them with facts about the dangers of coal and the benefits of solar, wind, and geothermal power. I think you'll get a laugh out of it (or at least a big smile). You can check out my video here:

You can click (here) to read my full blog post about these videos.

You can click (here) to read my debate with "David, with ABEC."

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