Big Oil’s Big Presence in Iowa Presidential Politics

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Last week I wrote about the dark side of the Iowa straw poll. Today comes new reason to be down on that strange Republican ritual, which will be held 10 days from new in Ames. The context is that Tim Pawlenty’s campaign is taking flack over the revelation that two of its key Iowa advisers are on the payroll of the Iowa Energy Forum, an astroturf group funded by the American Petroleum Institute and other oil industry outfits to advance its policy interests. Though certainly not a positive headline for Pawlenty, this hardly seems outrageous to me; it’s unfortunately quite typical for campaign advisers to do corporate and political work at the same time. I guess I can understand the added concern that the IEF will be busing Iowans to the straw poll, and that the dual IEF-Pawlenty advisers might use the group’s resources to aid their candidate.

To me, however, the bigger issue is the mere fact that an oil industry front group has bought itself such a major presence at the straw poll, which is really something akin to a political county fair. Here’s the Des Moines Register‘s Jennifer Jacobs:

An air-conditioned “igloo” paid for by the Iowa Energy Forum will rise up from the straw poll campus in Ames next month, an attraction meant to woo Iowans’ affection with free treats, kids’ rides and displays about energy technology.
The Republican Party of Iowa has received $100,000 from the organization, which is financed by the country’s largest oil industry trade group.

The Iowa Energy Forum’s agenda? Energy security, and no new taxes on the oil or natural gas industries. Its website mentions renewable energy, but stresses that the country will require oil, natural gas and coal as energy sources for decades. Small print reveals the American Petroleum Institute is the sponsor.

Is it too much to ask that big corporations not propagandize at the first significant test of the presidential primary process? And that’s not the whole story. I had missed this excellent Think Progress report from June on the group’s infiltration of Iowa campaign events:

A recent campaign stop by Rick Santorum reveals at least part of the strategy. During the question and answer period of an event last Monday at the Pizza Ranch in Ames, Iowa, Santorum was asked by a man if he would pledge to support the Keystone XL, an oil pipeline currently under construction to bring crude oil from Canada through several states to refineries in Texas. Santorum disregarded the question, and spoke for a few minutes about problems encountered by the fracking industry in his home state of Pennsylvania. The man interjected and again asked whether Santorum would say definitively if he supports the pipeline. Santorum, looking slightly annoyed, relented and said yes.

During the event, two young people in the back of the room handed out cards and pamphlets from a new organization called the Iowa Energy Forum. “We’re a grassroots group,” said Connor Reed, one of people sporting Iowa Energy Forum t-shirts…. Rather than being a grassroots organization, the Iowa Energy Forum is a slick, new creation of the oil and gas industry. The group is financed by the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association representing Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Transcanada, Shell Oil, and other oil industry heavyweights.

That’s your democracy at work, folks!