Tim Pawlenty’s Iowa Consultants Are Also Working For The Oil Lobby To Set Up Fake Grassroots Groups

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"Tim Pawlenty’s Iowa Consultants Are Also Working For The Oil Lobby To Set Up Fake Grassroots Groups"

Chuck Larson and Karen Slifka, consultants for Pawlenty's campaign and the oil lobby's Iowa astroturf effort

In June, ThinkProgress blew the lid off the “Iowa Energy Forum,” a recently formed organization designed to appear as a bona fide citizens’ group. In fact, the Forum is part of the oil lobby’s new effort to shape the Republican primary with phony grassroots events and planted questions among caucus-goers about oil industry priorities.

Now, Des Moines Register reporter Jennifer Jacobs reports that the Iowa Energy Forum is planning to co-opt a series of Republican primary events in Iowa. The Forum — funded by the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group representing Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, Saudi Refining Inc (a subsidiary of the Saudi state oil company), Chevron, and other oil giants — is sponsoring a large presence at the Iowa Straw Poll, as well as conservative religious events like the Iowa Faith and Freedom conference later this year.

Complicating the oil industry’s astroturf effort, many of the industry lobbyists guiding the Iowa Energy Forum are simultaneously paid consultants for the Tim Pawlenty for president campaign:

The American Petroleum Institute hired political consultants Chuck Larson and Karen Slifka to promote the Iowa Energy Forum message. Larson and Slifka have been paid consultants for Pawlenty and remain volunteer advisers. Contacted separately about how they avoid the appearance that they’re working both sides of the street, Larson and Slifka answered the Register’s questions via email, with similar responses: They consult with legal counsel and comply with federal elections rules. […]

Slifka negotiated the purchase of tent space for Pawlenty at the straw poll “land auction” last month. She and Larson were paid more than $47,000 last quarter for their work for Pawlenty, campaign disclosure reports show. Pawlenty’s state political action committee, Freedom First, paid their limited liability company, Midwest Political Professionals, about $22,000 in fees and expenses. And his presidential campaign paid them about $25,000.

While working on Pawlenty’s straw poll push, the same lobbyists are setting up an oil industry booth at the straw poll, complete with an air conditioned “igloo” with free rides and oil industry messages. Kent Sorenson, a spokesman for the Rep. Michele Bachmann presidential campaign, blasted the conflict of interest and said Pawlenty has “sunk to desperate and unethical attempts to win the Ames straw poll.” But its not just Pawlenty who is reliant on the oil industry and its political network. The Iowa Republican Party has accepted at least $100,000 from the American Petroleum Institute.

The Ames poll is infamous for being little more than an opportunity for candidates to buy as many tickets as possible, and rig the vote by busing in supporters. But this time around, it’s not just political candidates buying support; the oil industry will have its own caucus of “grassroots” supporters at the event.

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