The Billings Outpost

Focus on pipeline driven by Canadian money


Brad Molnar

Our brand new United States Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., proudly proclaimed that the first order of business for the new Congress would be to take a symbolic vote supporting the building of the XL pipeline.

Under current law the president, not Congress, must authorize a pipeline that crosses international borders. President Obama has pledged to veto the bill. This new Congress wasted no time identifying itself as street theater rather than a deliberative body.

But how did a steel pipe the size of a tractor tire transporting Canadian and U.S. crude oil to refineries owned by the Royal Saudi Family in Port Arthur, Texas, to provide diesel fuel to Central America become the most pressing issue in America? Drum rrrooolll.

The XL pipeline will be built for, and owned by, TransCanada LTD and its subsidiary, TransCanada USA. Regardless of their corporate post office box numbers, TransCanada is a company worthy of more scrutiny than a blind trust (see Outpost, June 6, 2013).

Undisputed leaked emails revealed that TransCanada had hired Edelman, the largest public relations firm in the world. Edelman, a U.S. firm, recommended using third-party advocates to target those who criticize their projects. This is done to energize ”large and passionate audiences that show a propensity to vote and take other political action.”

In other words, bring social pressure on opponents and political pressure on legislators without having TransCanada’s name attached to their generated comments. Though the leaked emails specify using this tactic on a Canadian project, plainly this has been a very successful campaign tactic in the United States.

I can find not one accurate or indisputable statement concerning the XL pipeline by proponent novice citizens, politicians and energy professionals alike. Not one.

The lobbying efforts expenditures of TransCanada have increased 300 percent since 2008. But in the science of lobbying, relationships are more important than dollars. TransCanada’s top lobbyists were key personnel in the campaigns and administrations of political heavyweights: first, Jeff Berman, national delegate director for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and 17 years with House Democratic Majority Leader Richard Gephardt. Most recently, Berman acted as political fund-raising strategist for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. Senator Landrieu’s main point was that we need to force a vote in the Senate on the XL pipeline.

Second, Brandon Pollak, deputy regional political director on John Kerry’s 2004 presidential run. Then David Russell, chief of staff to Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

Brandele McQueen was chief of staff for Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Calif., and the Chicago mayor’s office, which spawned many of President Obama’s aides such as former senior adviser David Axelrod. The lobbying efforts on the Obama administration have not yet yielded a return on investment.

Paul Elliott, on the other hand, gets the job done. Elliott was the national deputy director of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. TransCanada assigned Elliott lobbying duties in the State Department when Ms. Clinton became secretary of state. The XL easily won support from the State Department despite a torrent of allegations of a corrupted process.

John Kerry is now the secretary of state. How fortuitous for the career plan of Mr. Pollak.

But without the mother’s milk of politics, all the editorials, volunteer speakers, opposition research and back-slapping lobbyists in the world will not deliver. Money, or the fear of injected money, is always key.

Before the inception of the XL pipeline TransCanada never made political contributions. Nebraska’s governor and attorney general each returned $2,500 in campaign donations to TransCanada once the donations drew the attention of the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.

At the time, TransCanada was seeking approval to build the XL across the Nebraska sand hills. TransCanada donated to the Nebraska Republican Central Committee, which could donate to the governor’s and attorney general’s campaigns.

Acutely aware of American dislike for corporate contributions to political campaigns, TransCanada has given directly to very few. But according to the No. 1 recipient was then chairman of the Senate Taxation Committee Max Baucus, D-Mont. Sen. Baucus got more than double the amount given to all other reported candidates combined, and that was handled through individual donors, employees of TransCanada. This kept traceable political contributions to a piddling $16,000.

TransCanada is not wed to partisanship or ideology. When Hillary Clinton challenged Barack Obama in their presidential primary, TransCanada donated to both … and to John McCain and several of his Republican primary opponents. Later they gave to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

In Maine they gave to the Committee for a Democrat Majority and the Committee for a Republican Majority. Because they donate money via individual donors, it is tough to track it, but an internet search shows that those who have matched names to donations have found large political donations to state level candidates.

TransCanada seems to prefer combining its efforts with those of associations it belongs to or agrees with. For example, Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., received $56,100 from the oil and gas industry after he sponsored the North American-Made Energy Security Act to expedite approval of the XL pipeline. Rep. Terry sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Terry is a piker compared to appointed Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who gave the GOP’s weekly address and sang the praises of the XL. Scott received $153,000 from oil and gas contributors.

South Carolina is in no way affected by the XL or a major petroleum state, so who would criticize what he had to say? And TransCanada is a major donor to the American Legislative Exchange Council, which helps prep state legislators on upcoming issues

The committee to elect Steve Daines, whose election was never in doubt, was in the top three recipients of TransCanada PAC funds made up of individual contributors. All of now-Sen. Daines’ statements about the XL pipeline from the beginning were false and misleading clichés. No one challenged any of his statements in any forum or news outlet.

That would also be true of  pro XL pipeline positions made by other general election candidates. All Montana federal primary candidates who questioned the XL pipeline were defeated.

Why was a Canadian pipeline that undermines America’s stated desire for energy independence chosen as the first order of our new Congress? The pipeline builders bought their ticket. They get their ride.

This is part one of a two-part series on the XL pipeline and its political components. Brad Molnar served in the Montana Legislature for eight years and on the Public Service Commission.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 January 2015 14:06

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