Response to Pew and EDF on Analysis of Lobbying Databy Matthew Nisbet on Apr 25, 2011 • 5:27 PM No Comments
At his NY Times’ Dot Earth blog today, Andrew Revkin constructively moves the discussion forward to focus on the core themes and implications of the Climate Shift report. He notes that given the complexity of the debate over climate change and the data assembled and analyzed in the report that critics will always find strings to tug on.
One of those strings has already been addressed in a response to statements made by blogger Joe Romm on how lobbying totals were analyzed in the Climate Shift report. In Revkin’s post, however, similar statements to those made by Romm are echoed by Kate Mandes of the Pew Center for Global Climate Change and Tony Kriendler of the Environmental Defense Fund.
As someone who shares their same goals, I welcome their constructive feedback and critiques of the report but I also want to address statements they made about how lobbying totals were analyzed and presented, statements which are inaccurate. I look forward to moving on to a substantive discussion of the issues addressed in the report and how as a community we can make progress on climate change and energy insecurity. I would also welcome a chance to meet with them to discuss the report.
Both Mandes and Kriendler suggest that the lobbying analysis assumes as Kriendler says “that the environmental community had the total lobbying budget of all supportive companies at its disposal – all available lobbying funds on all issues.” Kriendler then adds in his email to Revkin, re-posted: “I trust you’ve seen the Center for Responsive Politics analysis of 2009 spending during the legislative debate, which estimates we were outspent about 8 to 1 by the oil and gas industry alone.”
The chapter in the report is clear in carefully addressing the uncertainty in the lobbying expenditure data while also building on what we know from previous reporting by the Center for Responsive Politics. Here is the key section from a previous post written in response to statements made by the blogger Joe Romm.
What kind of data is available specific to lobbying on cap and trade legislation?
Corporations and organizations are required to register if they lobbied on a bill, but only to report what they spent lobbying across all bills. The Center for Responsive Politics analyzes these reports and makes them available via a searchable database on their web site.
Because of the limits to the available data, just as we don’t know what corporate members of USCAP spent onlobbying specific to the cap and trade bill in 2009, we also don’t know exactly what the US Chamber or API spent either. The chapter in the report is very clear in addressing this. The Chamber for exampled devoted heavy resources in 2009 to health care and financial reform and as is the case with several of the corporations, the Chamber reports advertising totals as part of their lobbying totals. The American Petroleum Institute, for example, also focused on off-shore drilling, labor and safety rules, and wind fall taxes as policy priorities.
How does your analysis provide new insight on the data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics?
This section of the chapter builds on our understanding of the data provided in the past by the Center for Responsive Politics, which has grouped lobbying totals by the Energy and Natural Resources sector versus the Environment sector.
In my analysis, I go beyond these aggregate lobbying totals, by looking at specific companies and organizations across many sectors (i.e. financial, retail etc) that registered to lobby on the bill and were on record as supporters or opponents, providing a finer grained understanding of lobbying expenditures. I also unpack the Energy and Natural Resources data, looking at specific groups within this diverse sector that either supported or opposed cap and trade legislation. Here’s how that section to the report concludes, emphasizing the limits of what can be said about the lobbying data:
With the exception of the figures for the environmental groups, this comparison of lobbying expenditures across coalitions should not be interpreted as reflecting the actual amounts spent on cap and trade legislation. Instead, in the aggregate, these totals are representative of the capacity for power and influence that each side could apply in 2009. Through their work building coalitions and alliances, the environmental groups were able to forge a network of organizations that spent a combined $229 million on lobbying across all issues. In comparison, the network of prominent opponents of cap and trade legislation spent $272 million lobbying across all issues. These figures represent a dramatically reduced power difference compared with past legislative debates over climate change.
If major corporations partnered with environmental groups in announcing their support for cap and trade but did not spend resources lobbying in support, what are the implications?
If environmental groups are now saying that the heavy investment they put into forming USCAP and partnering with corporations was for naught, then they should come forward and fully disclose the exact role and resources these corporate partners devoted to the cap and trade battle. This would help inform decision-making as to whether relying on corporate partners is a reliable strategy for the future. If corporate partners cannot be relied on, then it suggests that a big omnibus, regulatory solution bill like cap and trade (i.e. a legislative battle on the scale, if not greater than health care reform) may not be possible and instead other policy paths need to be taken.
This is one of the important implications of the report that has been obscured by the relentless manufacturing of uncertainty and personality conflict by Romm.
Can the lobbying expenditures be accurately re-framed as Romm claims, showing an 8-1 advantage for opponents of cap and trade legislation?
NO. This is not possible from the reported lobbying expenditures as explained above. For Romm to headline his blog post claiming this is simply misleading and is intended to distort and suppress discussion of the major themes addressed in the report.