“Your Energy America” is a newly formed front group pushing Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline. By tracing hosting information for the group’s website, DeSmog has found evidence pointing to the PR firm behind the group: DDC Advocacy, which has known ties to the Republican Party.
Short for Democracy, Data & Communications, DDC’s founding partner, chairman, and CEO, B.R. McConnon in the past “has acted as a key contact and spokesperson for [National Federation for Independent Business],” according to his LinkedIn. NFIB takes funding from Koch Industries and other major corporate interests, and McConnon began his career as a policy analyst for the Koch-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy, the precursor to Americans for Prosperity.
“Your Energy” was launched in the heat of the Virginia gubernatorial primary races and is run by the American Gas Association. The race for Virginia’s highest office recently saw Democratic Party candidate Ralph Northam and GOPcandidate Ed Gillespie come out ahead as their parties’ nominees for the looming November election.
Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, slated to run from West Virginia to North Carolina and slice through western Virginia, serves as a key issue in the race, with both Northam and Gillespie coming out in support of the pipeline. According to ThinkProgress, “During the primary, Northam and his PAC received $109,283.30 from Dominion’s executives, board members, lobbyist, and PAC,” while Gilespie received $43,125.
Your Energy Virginia, an offshoot of Your Energy America, whose website is also hosted by DDC, served as a sponsor for the Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Energy and Sustainability Conference held in May. Dominion served as the lead sponsor for that convening, which featured a keynote address by Virginia’s Democratic Governor, Terry McAuliffe.
A source who requested anonymity and attended the Chamber of Commerce event told DeSmog, he saw Ryan Lowry, DDC’s Vice President of Client Relations, wearing a Your Energy Virginia name badge at the event. DDC has played a pioneering role in pushing web-centric “astroturf” public relations campaigns, which it calls “grassroots.”
“The firm was among the first to try to use technology for grassroots advocacy,” Jim Gianiny, DDC’s president, said in 2010 interview with the Personal Democracy Forum. “The firm built up a consulting and grassroots advocacy practice around its technology to become the full-service issue advocacy firm that we are today.”
Koch, American Petroleum Institute clients of DDC
DDC is an Associate Member of Edison Electric Institute (EEI), a lobbying and advocacy wing of the electric utilities industry which has paid DDC over $1.8 million to do public relations work since 2012, according to U.S. Internal Revenue Services (IRS) tax forms. According to a list of web domains hosted by DDC and obtained by ThinkProgress in 2009, the Koch Industries political affairs committee, KochPAC – as well as several tobacco companies – have websites hosted by DDC.
“We’re strategic partners and problem solvers for your most complex public affairs issues,” DDC says on its website. “We offer the most innovative digital tools, technology and data to help you get the results you need, when and where you need them.”
A 2007 client list tracked down by DeSmog shows that DDC has also worked with companies such as BP, Dominion, Edison Electric, Southern California Edison, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, San Diego Gas & Electric, News Corp (owner of Fox News), and others. On its website, a DDC case study page also says it did the digital work for the American Petroleum Institute‘s Energy Citizens campaign to promote hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Marcellus Shale.
“DDC has actively partnered with the American Petroleum Institute (API) for years, designing, executing, and managing all facets of their key national advocacy program,” explains the profile.
“DDC was tasked with creating an on-the-ground campaign focused on raising the profile of Energy Citizens in support of natural gas production from the ‘Marcellus Shale’ formation in Pennsylvania. This was the first time a consumer-based advocacy group would collaborate with other local landowners, small businesses, and industry groups to support natural gas development from the Marcellus Shale site; conveying positions to government officials, the media, and the broader public; as well as building organizational momentum.”
In the “Energy Citizens” Marcellus campaign, DDC said it helped to convene two roundtable meetings with local congressional representatives, get 170 letters of support published and sent to Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Commission, and recruited over 2,300 people to take up the cause.
According to IRS tax filings reviewed by DeSmog, API paid DDC $29.3 million for its work between 2011 and 2015.
Tobacco, Bush ties to DDC
DDC also has its own political action committee named DDC PAC, which has given thousands of dollars in campaign contributions exclusively to Republican Party candidates. The Guardian reported in 2013 that DDC was working for Phillip Morris on a website trying to fend off efforts to mandate plain packaging for the tobacco industry.
In 2011, DDC acquired the firm BlueFront Strategies, which was at the time owned and founded by Sara Fagen, who served as White House political director for President George W. Bush and as a top strategist to the 2004 Bush re-election campaign. Fagen, who served as a fundraiser and did data work for Jeb Bush’s short-lived 2016 presidential run, now works as a partner at DDC. Her husband, Joel Fagen, works for Fox News.
Corporate get out the vote
The day before the June 13 gubernatorial primary election in Virginia, The Intercept’s Ryan Grim reported that Dominion had done an internal push of its employees to go to the polls and vote for Northam. DDC has actually done this sort of thing before, according to a 2012 article by Lee Fang published in The Nation, which pointed to a similar effort to urge Koch Industries employees to get out the vote for Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
“DDC Advocacy is part of a cottage industry of Beltway consultants who specialize in helping businesses activate their employees and customers into mini lobbyists,” reported Fang. “It’s not clear if DDC Advocacy is replicating the type of explicit candidate endorsements pioneered by Koch for these other companies.”
Dominion itself has a get-out-the-vote website, DominionEnergyAction.com, which is hosted by the firm Charles River Associates. Charles River’s clients have included Dominion, American Petroleum Institute, Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, Peabody Energy, and others.
Sara Fagen, then named Sara Taylor and a key aide to Bush chief of staff and campaign chief Karl Rove, was credited by The Washington Post as a “microtargetting guru” who in 2004 “was among those who helped use sophisticated analysis of consumer data to enable the Bush campaign to target potential voters even when they resided in Democratic-leaning voting districts.” DDC spent over $4 million on various get-out-the-vote techniques in 2012 on behalf of Republican Party presidential candidate Romney, according to U.S. Federal Election Commission data, which does not require DDC to disclose who paid the firm to do the work.
Getting out the vote is one thing, but creating the veneer of a grassroots movement in support of pipelines is another related, but albeit distinct, thing altogether. What they share in common: a need for the appearance of everyday people working together as a means to an end.
“The fossil fuel industry craves its own grassroots movement, and they really are having a hard time not appearing to be the thugs that they are,” Kert Davies, executive director of the Climate Investigations Center, recently told ThinkProgress of Your Energy America. “In most cases, our communities are an obstacle for these companies to get through so that they can make money.”
DDC representatives did not respond to a request for comment.