May 12, 2014

Pro-Keystone XL Consulting Firm May Have Violated Ethics Laws

Pro-Keystone XL Consulting Firm May Have Violated Ethics Laws

One of the many consulting firms retained to build support for the Keystone XL, a controversial pipeline to bring oil sands in Canada to gulf coast refineries, failed to disclose its activities as federal appears to have required. Through a records request, Republic Report has found that the Alberta government hired a public relations company called Feverpress to promote the pipeline last year.

Feverpress, run by Hilary Lefebvre and David Press, was retained for $65,000. In a memo to David Manning, Alberta’s lobbyist in Washington DC, Feverpress said they had reached out to “producers and reporters to gauge level of interest in the Keystone issue and to introduce the Premier as a spokesperson to speak on behalf of Canadian efforts to secure approval of the pipeline.” The invoice shows a payment titled “Public Relations Services Relating to Keystone Pipeline.”

The firm pledged to reach out to “bigger targets” in the media, including Charlie Rose and Piers Morgan. “We have devised a strategy to focus interest on Alberta as a contributor to the US economy and environmental sustainability, to take advantage of ongoing media interest in energy security, seasonal interest in gasoline prices, and responding to increased efforts by the environmental community to portray Keystone’s impact in a very negative way,” wrote the firm their clients in Canada.

The final decision on the Keystone XL will be made by President Barack Obama. To influence the process, a number of interest groups that stand to gain from approval of the pipeline have conducted a multi-year promotional campaign.

Critics say approval will drastically boost carbon emissions because the pipeline will vastly accelerate high-carbon tar sands production. NASA scientist James Hansen has declared that the pipeline is a “fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.”

The Alberta government has gone to great lengths to build public support for the Keystone XL. Last year, Alberta retained consulting firms Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications and Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti to help with Keystone XL outreach among reporters and public officials. As DeSmogBlog’s Brendan DeMelle noted, both firms are led by former staffers to political leaders central to the Keystone XL approval process, including Secretary of State John Kerry.

According to her website biography, Feverpress’ Hilary Lefebvre is a former “communications official in the Hillary Clinton for President campaign.”

But Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications and Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti were reported last year as Alberta clients because both firms registered and disclosed their activities as required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Feverpress did not.

“If Feverpress was hired on behalf of the government of Alberta or any foreign political party to conduct a public relations campaign in the United States to affect public policy, Feverpress would be required to register under FARA and disclose its compensation, clients and lobbying activities,” says Craig Holman, an ethics expert with Public Citizen.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act was adopted in 1938 after reports that the Nazi government was attempting to influence American public opinion to not intervene in World War II. The law requires registration and disclosure of foreign principals attempting to influence American public policy through public relations campaigns as well as direct lobbying.

The contract with Alberta states Feverpress was brought on to devise “media strategy” regarding “the Keystone XL and oil sands development … to ensure continued and expanded market access to the U.S. for Alberta oil sands resources.” The communications obtained by Republic Report show that Feverpress attempted to book former Alberta premiere Alison Redford on media programs including Morning Joe, Andrea Mitchell Reports, Piers Morgan Live, and The Lead with Jake Tapper.

Contacted by Republic Report for comment, Kevin Armstrong, a public affairs officer with Alberta International and Intergovernmental Relations, said consultants retained by his agency register on their own under applicable laws. “We expect the companies we contract with to abide by the law,” said Armstrong.

Feverpress could not provide a comment when reached by Republic Report.

A copy of the Feverpress contract and invoice with Alberta can be found here.

Earlier this year, Republic Report revealed other interest groups have been working behind the scenes to promote the pipeline. In February, we reported on a group of oil refinery companies that have spent millions of dollars to finance pro-pipeline grassroots organizations and campaign ads.  We also reported that a prominent economic analysis firm that had produced a report downplaying environmental concerns regarding the Keystone XL had been quietly retained by Alberta for a lucrative consulting contract.