Campaign ad nauseam

When big donors drive big ad campaigns, expect the truth to get bent

Apr 11, 2012 at 12:00 am

If you have watched any television at all lately, you no doubt have seen the "Nine Dollar Gas" commercial attacking President Barack Obama for his energy policies.

The $3.2 million ad campaign — being aired in Michigan and seven other so-called "battleground" states expected to be key in the November presidential election — is funded by the American Energy Alliance, a nonprofit organization with strong ties to the oil industry. Because it is a nonprofit, however, the group is not required to publicly disclose where its money comes from. But there's little doubt that the oil and gas industries are propping it up.

The group was founded in 2008 by Thomas Pyle, who, according to the watchdogs at the left-leaning Center for Media & Democracy, "previously lobbied on behalf of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association and Koch Industries."

Koch (pronounced coke) Industries is the second-largest privately held company in America. Headed by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, the company, a multinational conglomerate with its fingers in all sorts of industries, owns both oil pipelines and refineries.

The sons of a radical libertarian (who, as critics rejoice in pointing out, laid the foundation for at least part of his fortune by working with the brutal Soviet leader Josef Stalin) the Kochs appear committed to spend whatever it takes to help defeat Obama come November.

Earlier this year, the nonprofit group Americans for Prosperity — which was founded by David Koch — reportedly spent $6 million to run TV ads attacking Obama for the federal government's provision of $535 million in loan guarantees to Solyndra, a solar panel company that subsequently went bankrupt.

Solyndra also earned a mention in the new ad being paid for by the American Energy Alliance.

Writing for the Washington Post's fact-checker blog, reporter Josh Hicks noted that the ad, and the Obama campaign's counter-attack, provide "a preview of the hard-hitting rhetorical campaigns and rapid-response reactions that will take place as the general election nears."

They also provide a preview of the sort of "carpet bombing" voters — especially those in swing states such as Michigan — will be subjected to as the presidential election approaches, says Rich Robinson of the nonprofit Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

We can thank the U.S. Supreme Court and its dreadful Citizens United ruling for allowing unlimited amounts of corporate, union and private funding to pour into this campaign.

So, get ready. This is just the start. The combination of more money and a lack of accountability is likely to make this upcoming campaign a nonstop carnival of repugnance.

In his analysis of the American Energy Alliance (AEA) ad, and in the responses from the Democratic National Committee, the pro-Obama Super PAC called Priorities USA and the Obama campaign itself, Hicks found plenty of truth-twisting being done by all involved.

The recent spike in gas prices has hit us all hard. And, with the economy showing steady, albeit slow, signs of recovery, the right obviously is looking for other ways to attack the president. The price of gas provides an easy opening.

But is it fair to blame the president?

He's being lambasted for his administration's failure to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would move Canadian tar sands oil to Texas refineries. As a source of gasoline, tar sands are an environmental nightmare. Even so, Obama and company didn't kill the project. 

Even if they did, stopping a project that would not have been completed until 2014 at the earliest has absolutely nothing to do with the price consumers are now paying at the pump. 

In fact, there is little any president could do to immediately affect gasoline prices. As Daniel Yergin, author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the history of the oil industry, recently told NPR: "In the short term, there's not very much that any president can do about high gasoline prices, because these are really reflecting what's happening in the world market."

To counter the attacks, the Obama campaign fired back with an ad that attempts to paint Republican Mitt Romney as a tool of Big Oil.

"Under President Obama, domestic oil production's at an eight-year high. So why is Big Oil attacking him?"

The answer: "Because he's fighting to end their tax breaks. He's raising mileage standards and doubling renewable energy. In all these fights, Mitt Romney stood with Big Oil for their tax breaks, attacking higher mileage standards and renewables. So when you see this ad, remember who paid for it and what they want."

As reported in the Washington Post's fact-check blog, it's the administration that's playing us for suckers when it tries to take credit for increased domestic production:

"We mentioned [previously] that current production levels don't really warrant bragging rights for first-term presidents. That's because the government works with five-year extraction plans, meaning most of the credit for production of oil and gas belongs to the previous administration."

So the prez's campaign got a one-Pinocchio rating for its truth-stretching there. Previous ads by the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA and the Democratic National Committee each earned three-Pinocchio ratings for making unsubstantiated claims that Romney is being bought by Big Oil.

The American Energy Alliance ad likewise earned a three-Pinocchio rating.

All of which should serve as a note of caution for voters as the campaign heats up. Unprecedented amounts of money are going to be spent to influence the upcoming election. And no side is going to emerge with clean hands.


News Hits is written by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected].