Beware of this fake pro-climate group
A GOP-linked dark money organization is running deceptive ads on Google and other platforms in an attempt to kill historic climate legislation.
IN TODAY’S ISSUE…
The story of an insidious new effort to kill the Senate climate bill
Details of how news and social media platforms are helping the effort spread
A brief analysis of what it means (it might be… good news?)
A special deal for HEATED readers on a climate-focused weather service
Undeniable evidence that Beyoncé loves this newsletter
A picture of Fish cooling off from the heat
In each edition of the popular newsletter, the group has urged New Yorkers to oppose the historic $369 billion climate policy deal reached by Senate Democrats last week, arguing it does not go far enough to save the planet.
“The time to take action on planet-saving climate change legislation is NOW,” reads one of the group’s ads. “Demand true environmental justice from your Democrat colleagues or block the Reconciliation bill.” Another ad reads: “Demand real climate change action in the Reconciliation package, or kill it altogether.”
Similar ads from United for Clean Power have been spreading on Facebook and Google this week, too. The group has spent $11,527 on Facebook ads in the last week, as well as $15,300 on more than 100 Google ads shown in all 50 states.
United for Clean Power looks a lot like a progressive advocacy group. After all, many climate-justice focused groups have raised alarm about the deal because of its many gifts to the oil and gas industry, courtesy of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin.
But United for Clean Power is not a progressive advocacy group. According to reporting from Nick Seymour and Kyle Tharp at the FWIW newsletter, United for Clean Power is a Republican-linked dark money group, and most likely an attempt at deceptive astroturfing.
In other words, Republicans are trying to kill historic climate legislation by tricking progressive voters into believing that’s the best thing to do for the climate. And platforms like POLITICO, Facebook and Google are aiding in that deception by allowing the ads to spread unchecked.
The story behind United for Clean Power
United for Clean Power was incorporated in 2015 by Erin Cummings, currently a regional coordination officer for the Department of Homeland Security. According to their LinkedIn profile, Cummings was president of the organization from 2015 to 2017.
“I excel in chaos,” their profile reads.
Cummings did not respond to HEATED’s request for details on the organization’s activities while they were president. But a 2015 tax form unearthed by FWIW showed United for Clean Power received a $41,000 grant the year it was founded from Freedom Frontier, a non-profit that’s been linked to an extensive conservative dark money network.
The FWIW newsletter found more details on United for Clean Powers’ activities following Cummings’ self-reported departure. In 2018 and 2019, United for Clean Power’s the group’s “only major expenditure was to pay Republican firm Majority Strategies $135,000 for ‘advertising,’” the newsletter reported.
Majority Strategies “has worked to elect countless Republican climate deniers to Congress and other elected offices, including recently for Sarah Palin’s campaign for Congress in Alaska this year,” it added.
Additional evidence that United for Clean Power is not a real climate change group can be found in… literally everything the has group posted online. The banner on their website, for instance, doesn’t mean anything:
This Facebook ad uses very odd language:
And the group’s YouTube page description capitalizes “climate change” like a proper noun:
The whole thing just feels very “How do you do, fellow kids?” These don’t seem like people who are actually in the game.
Why is Google allowing deceptive ads?
Neither POLITICO’s ad policy nor Facebook’s ad policy appear to prohibit political ads that conceal the buyer’s true identity and motives.
Google's ad policy, however, does prohibit "coordinated deceptive practices.” This includes "concealing or misrepresenting your identity or other material details about yourself, where your content relates to politics, social issues, or matters of public concern."
Google’s ad policy also prohibits “making misleading statements, obscuring, or omitting material information about your identity, affiliations, or qualifications.”
We reached out to Google for comment on whether United for Clean Power’s ads violate their policy and will update you if we hear back.
Why would conservatives pretend to be progressives?
It’s clear that United for Clean Power isn’t really a bastion of progressive values. But does it matter that they’re pretending to be?
After all, there are real problems with the climate bill, and climate justice groups have not been shy about pointing that out. Just like United for Clean Power, actual climate justice groups like WE ACT, Indigenous Environmental Network, and the Center for Biological Diversity have released scathing statements condemning the pro-fossil fuel provisions in the bill.
But none of those real climate justice groups are outwardly calling for the bill to be killed. The actual climate groups instead urge Democrats to keep fighting against the provisions that boost fossil fuels, and for President Biden to declare a climate emergency in addition to passing the bill.
That’s likely because, even with the poison pills Manchin inserted into the bill, it’s still generally seen as better than passing nothing. Leah Stokes, an environmental policy professor who advised Senate Democrats on the bill, argues that it’s much better.
Stokes thinks the United for Clean Power’s deception indicates that the climate bill is a bigger threat to the fossil fuel industry than it may appear. Though fossil fuel CEOs have publicly praised the bill, Stokes thinks they still would rather not see it pass.
”Fossil fuel executives are not reliable narrators,” she said. “They want investors to see the positives, and see the upsides [of passing this climate policy]. But I really think in the long run–and maybe in the next few years–we’re going to see that if we pass this bill, it’s going to make huge strides in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.”
For fossil fuel executives and the politicians in their pocket, it’s a good-case scenario that the Schumer-Manchin climate deal has a place for fossil fuels. But their best case scenario, as always, is no climate deal at all. They can’t publicly oppose all climate policy, though—that’s just evil. So their last resort to kill the bill is dark money groups that pretend to be opposing it from a morally righteous angle.
“They understand how transformative the investments are going to be, and how much we’re going to crush demand for fossil fuels in this country,“ Stokes said. “They’re on the Titanic. That’s the truth. And it’s about to go down.”
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