Dubious Oil Lobby Bankrolls Dubious Poll

CEABy Peter Galuszka

In a recent post, Bacons Rebellion extolled the findings of Hickman Analytics Inc., a suburban Washington consulting firm hired by the Consumer Energy Alliance, which found that according to a survey of 500 registered voters, the vast majority of Virginians support Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The $5 billion project would take natural gas released by hydraulic fracturing from West Virginia southeastward through Virginia into North Carolina. Dominion has taken some strong-arm tactics to force the project through, such as suing property owners who declined to let surveyors onto their property.

Having reported on the controversy in such places as Nelson County, I was surprised to note the Hickman results showing such a strong support for the pipeline.

Maybe, I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

Let’s start with the so-called “Consumer Energy Alliance.” For starters, it is a Texas based lobbying group funded by such fossil fuel giants as ExxonMobil and Devon Energy, perhaps the largest independent oil rim in the country plus as host of utilities.

It has been traversing the United States drumming up support, often through dubious polls, against initiatives to cut back on carbon emissions. It supports the Keystone XL and other petroleum pipelines.

Says SourceWatch, quoting Salon.com, “The CEA is part of a sophisticated public affairs strategy designed to manipulate the U.S. political system by deluging the media with messaging favorable to the tar-sands industry; to persuade key state and federal legislators to act in the extractive industries’ favor; and to defeat any attempt to regulate the carbon emissions emanating from gasoline and diesel used by U.S. vehicles.”

The group was created in the late 2000s by Michael Whatley a Republican energy lobbyist with links to the Canadian and American oil sector.

The alliance’s modus operandi is to use “polls” presumably of average voters on key energy issues.

In Wisconsin, the CEA got involved in a battle over an attempt by electric utilities to hike rates if individual homeowners used solar panels to generate power. The state is dominated by coal-fired power and hasn’t done much with renewables. The utilities claim that they paid for the electricity grid and therefore home-power generators must pay extra for its use and the cost should be shared by all through rate hikes.

Many ratepayers opposed this blatant attempt to push back at solar power. Then, all the way from Texas and Washington, the Consumer Energy Alliance jumped in with the names of 2,500 local ratepayers who backed the rate hikes. It wanted to give their names to Wisconsin regulators.

The Grist asked: “What dog does CEA, a trade group from Texas, have in Wisconsin’s fight, anyway? Well, CEA represents the interests of mostly fossil fuel companies, so it is engaged in a nationwide campaign to slow the spread of home-produced renewable energy. It has a regional Midwest chapter, which pushes for fracking and for President Obama to approve the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline.”

I was likewise puzzled by the Virginia pipeline survey that CEA paid for by Hickman Analytics, a Chevy Chase, Md. firm that does a lot of political polling. The firm is powerful and its principals were heavily involved with disgraced Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

There was a poll by Hickman for CEA showing that New Hampshire vote just love Arctic offshore drilling. That’s off because the Granite State isn’t anywhere close to the Arctic despite its cold winters.

There was another Hickman/CEA poll showing how much Coloradans love the Keystone XL pipeline – another curiosity because the last time I checked that pipeline doesn’t run through Colorado.

And, fresh with a “five figure” sponsorship from Dominion, Bacon’s Rebellion publisher James A. Bacon Jr. starts writing about this dubious poll from a dubious source showing that Virginians are tickled pink with the ACL pipeline. When questioned, he says it’s nothing different from a poll funded by the Sierra Club.

Maybe, on another matter, it is curious that Bacon’s Rebellion’s sponsorship deal with Dominion which Jim posted online is signed by Daniel A. Weekley, vice president for Dominion corporate affairs.

The very same Mr. Weekley signed an informational packet sent out to Virginia homeowners impacted by the proposed pipeline route telling them what a great thing the pipeline is.

Am I connecting the dots correctly?

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13 responses to “Dubious Oil Lobby Bankrolls Dubious Poll

  1. Peter –

    Your “article” strikes me as nothing more than a gratuitous smear.

    You don’t like large power companies. You don’t don’t like oil pipelines. You don’t like Republicans. You don’t like opinions that are variance with your own. You don’t like people who disagree with you.

    Those are the only dots you’ve connected here. So you line them up and then strongly suggest they are doing something illegal, improper, evil, or whatever else bad your mind’s stereotyping can conjure up and then spew out. And nothing more.

  2. Wow, Peter, nice hatchet job.

    Here’s what your argument boils down to: The poll was conducted at the behest of Consumer Energy Alliance, which is a tool of the evil oil companies. Ergo, the poll results are illegitimate.

    I might have a modicum of respect for this analysis if you demonstrated how the poll was flawed. Hickman Analytics made everything totally transparent — both the questions it asked and the results it obtained. It’s all online, but you have yet to present the first iota of evidence to support your insinuation that the poll results are flawed.

    As far as me “extolling” the poll, I did no such thing. I reported the findings in a straightforward manner, illuminating certain results — particularly the surprisingly strong anti-fracking sentiment — that no one else had picked up on. I’ll stack my objectivity on this issue against yours any day of the week.

    • I suppose the question that comes to mind is: validity. In other contexts in which their work can be measured (i.e. political races), what is the track record of Hickman Analytics in their polling v. actual results?

      In my mind, that’s really the question about this poll.

      You and I can do what “appears” to be a poll that looks “legitimate.” However, if the firm of Bacon and Cville Resident has no other polls to examine for their accuracy in actually measuring public opinion, why would anyone trust our poll even if the crosstabs looked “legitimate”?

      I’d be interested to know if you have concrete political polling done by Hickman that accurately predicted the outcome of elections.

      On a different note, you’ve been around journalism long enough to know that journalists mock “internal polls” provided by campaigns even if the data looks “legitimate.” You can’t tell me that any serious political journalist cares what the campaign says the numbers are. Why is it any different to be skeptical of an industry-backed poll that shows numbers that one might believe the poll’s commissioner would desire?

    • While Mr. Galuzka should have looked at the actual poll before his long-winded comment, he is correct Mr. Bacon that you should have attempted to discover if the Consumer Energy Alliance and/or Hickman Analytics were “astroturf” organizations and noted their history in your original piece.

      I don’t have a dog in this fight as I don’t care about this pipeline, nor do I live near its proposed route(s). But, as a former journalism professor, I do care that the “money” makes up news through actions like this poll and media too-often simply re-writes the press release. Mark Twain had it right (as usual) all those decades ago when he said, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” It is very easy today for the “money” to create some supportive statistics because people like Mr. Galuzka don’t have the money or time — as he’s trying to make a living as a writer and there ain’t no writing dollars in challenging the big boys — to produce documented refutations of the “money’s” position. All the money, expertise and time is with PR firms, lawyers, consultants working for the biggees and people like Mr. Galuzka don’t have staffs to dig into a story for which no one gets paid.

      While I refuse to believe, as Mr. Galuzka implies, that Mr. Bacon is kowtowing to Dominion Power (or his other past, present and future sponsors), we all learn at a very early age that it’s not good policy to “bite the hand that feeds you.” Walking that line is, no doubt, difficult and I hope that you, Mr. Bacon, continue to do good work without any nagging voices in the back of your head saying something like, “What will Dominion think?”

      Please try, Mr. Bacon, and ensure that you are not holding Mr. Galuzka to a standard which he, as an unpaid individual, cannot reach while giving the “money” the benefit of the doubt. Mr. Galuzka, please try and remember that Mr. Bacon is allowing your biting commentary to run in the one place where it could actually affect his checkbook — on Bacons Rebellion.

  3. Jim,
    My big problems with your post start with the misleading headline.

    “Virginia’s voters: Pump, Baby, Pump.”

    You are alluding to the “Drill, Baby,Drill” rallying cry from a few years ago at a Republican Party convention. It was intended as an in-your-face putdown of anyone who questions the impact of drilling. The headline is off base in the extreme.

    The story merely says that 500 voters surveyed by a polling company said they didn’t see a problem with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. That is 500 voters out of a state with a population of more than 8 million.

    Next problem is that the Consumer Energy Alliance is a shell group for the oil industry. It has NOTHING to do with “consumers.” If anything it is a PRODUCERS Energy Alliance. This is not clearly noted.

    Next problem is the polling firm. A quick Web check shows that whenever they poll for the CEA, Hickman Analytics miraculously finds that voters support some message the petroleum and utility industry wants them to. Nowhere in your file to you note this, since I guess you don’t want to look beyond your warm and fuzzy world of Virginia. These two companies have been to three states so far finding some message favorable to the oil industry.

    Nothing here is noted. The first paragraph of the story just states as absolute fact that voters really love that Dominion pipeline. Second graph, we learn that it is really a lot less than meets the eye.

    Jim, you have really overreached here. You can’t right btreathless, screamer heads like “Pump,Baby,Pump” because that is not what is going on, even if you take the press release seriously. It is beyond misleading. It is a lie. If this is what your new and controversial deal with Dominion means, you have big problems. I thought you’d be writing deeply-reported balanced articles about energy issues, not some BJ from a press release.
    As for Reed Fawell, his note is simply too patronizing to respond.

    • Seem to recall Mark Warner has supported expanded oil and gas drilling.

      Where are the market disrupters in the energy business? It seems to me to be standing in line for a government subsidy.

  4. Cville Resident HAS asked the relevant question: “In other contexts in which their work can be measured (i.e. political races), what is the track record of Hickman Analytics in their polling v. actual results? In my mind, that’s really the question about this poll.”

    Instead of mudslinging does either of you squabblers have something to say about THAT question?

  5. Dear Mr. Galuszka:

    We have conducted our own independent poll and the results confirm the poll you so thoughtlessly criticize. In fact, our poll indicates that Virginians overwhelmingly want as many oil and gas pipelines as possible running through the Commonwealth.

    Best regards,

    The Koch Brothers.

  6. I don’t care who paid for any poll but I care about the methodology and I like to read the questionnaire for subtle question bias. As I recall when this was released there was a link to a description of the methodology and to the actual questionnaire. That is how you evaluate a poll.

    But I didn’t take the time to read them in this case because I’m already in favor of building these pipelines so why do I need a poll to tell me I’m right? As a paid professional spin doctor who would not refuse a commission on one of these things, I can tell you any poll I affiliate with will be done right! Me, you can trust.

  7. Salz
    For starters, my name is Galuszka, not Galuzka. As a “former journalism professor” you should know that.
    And, please, I don’t need advice on how I need to be grateful that Jim lets me post “biting” commentary on his site.

    He knows, as I do, that I can set up my own blog site in about 20 minutes and have done so.

    You are off base here, Salz

    • Sorry about being “off base” and leaving out an “s” in your name. Like you who writes “right” when he means “write,” I don’t edit my comments.

      Please do set up a blog of your own, Mr. Galuszka, where you can, and should, say whatever strikes your fancy about Mr. Bacon’s work, my work, anyone else’s work. But looking at the several comments about your critique of Mr. Bacon and Dominion Power, it’s apparent to readers of Bacons Rebellion — except yourself apparently — that you do indeed need “advice.”

  8. It’s a curious relationship as Hickman is supposed to be a Democrat poller and we know the interests of so-called Consumer Energy Alliance which I believe is not an alliance of the typical consumers one envisions when thinking of Consumers Reports and the like and we sorta know about
    organizations that use titles that are less than straightforward guides to
    who they are.

    and it seems to be the only relationship that Hickman has.. They seem to
    be not a general purpose poller but a sort of specialty poller.. at least to me.

    I just think it’s totally odd to ask New Hampshire folks about Arctic drilling or folks in Va about a pipeline in name only – a name that I doubt few would actually associated with the controversy and the disparity between fracking and moving gas from fracking is a bump.

    So, I’m not throwing the penalty flag – yet – but I’m suspicious as is Desmog and source watch and this guy:

    Consumer Energy Alliance: Another Astroturf Front Group

    I think they are probably dirty … or let’s say at the least – I do not think they are an unimpeachable source by a long shot –

  9. Salz
    As far as typos, i need to go to the eye doctor. As far as your criticism, you are playing above your league

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