A petroleum industry front group bought Facebook advertisements criticizing fuel efficiency standards and has been claiming affiliations with various unions and other organizations.
Energy4US is made up of US labor groups, businesses, consumers, and workers “united in the belief that energy empowers us all,” says its website.
Yet “I know for a fact that we’re not affiliated with them in any way,” John Gibson, secretary-treasurer of Washington DC’s Teamsters Local 639, listed as a coalition member, told Bloomberg Law. “We would definitely not partner with someone that’s so anti-regulatory,” Gibson said.
A number of unions and other entities listed on Energy4US website, including the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office, are now disclaiming any affiliation with the group.
Energy4US is linked to the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers trade group which represents almost all major US manufacturers of gasoline, diesel, and other fuels, including ExxonMobil and Chevron.
Its Facebook posts and ads include one with a picture of former President Barack Obama that asked “Would you buy a used car from this man?” The ad criticized the administration’s proposals for requiring better gas mileage for vehicles and various local “carbon taxes.” It has since been deleted but remains on Facebook’s ad archive.
Another ad, which appears to have nothing to do with energy issues, targets Andrew Cuomo, who has allied with unions in the past, suggesting the New York governor is a threat to public employees’ pensions. A number of unions and other entities listed on Energy4US website, including the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office, are now disclaiming any affiliation with the group.
The ads were viewed up to 1.1 million times, according to Facebook’s Ad Archive.
The practice of masking the identity of sponsors of a political message is known as “astroturfing”. The lack of transparency around Energy4US fits a broader pattern of industry operatives creating front groups that look like grass-roots movements.
According to the petroleum group, Energy4US’ coalition includes “25 labor groups and over 20 organizations.” Yet some of the unions told Bloomberg Law they aren’t and weren’t ever coalition members; others say they were unaware of and don’t support the group’s advertising activities.
Energy4US’ website and advertising is apparently run by public relations professionals Mike Collins and Theresa Woods. According to his website, Collins was deputy communications director of the National Republican Congressional Committee and was head writer for the 2012 Republican National Convention Committee on Arrangements.
The two didn’t respond to requests for comment, and emails sent by Bloomberg Law to Energy4US’ listed address went unanswered. But AFPM acknowledged its leadership of Energy4US’ coalition and involvement in the advertising campaign.
We “lead and join coalitions like Energy4US,” which includes organizations that “rely on affordable access to our products,” AFPM told Bloomberg Law in an email.
Labor unions are historically associated with Democrats and liberal politics, but many are increasingly associating with Republicans and business groups where they see opportunities for more work for their members.
Energy4US appears not to have purchased new Facebook ads after Oct. 8 and has deleted some posts, although it continues publishing on its page.