American Petroleum Institute wants us to be “energy voters,” which means supporting the Keystone XL pipeline.

The friendly looking and sharply dressed middle-aged African-American man looks out at us from a full-page ad with a confident smile. A headline in a type face that looks like someone wrote it out by hand reads the words this impressive executive-looking man is supposed to be saying to us: “I’m an energy voter.”  

The rest of the ad consists of about 70 words which tell us that we need energy from all sources to create new jobs and then makes the unproved assertion that to get the energy we need “means developing our plentiful domestic energy—like oil and natural gas.”  The text then urges us to become “energy voters.” Underneath a campaign button that reads “Vote4Energy.org; more growth.” below which it tells us we can learn more at Vote4Energy.org.

I saw this print ad in yesterday’s USA Today. When I went to the website I discovered that it is part of a series of ads which feature a diverse mix of attractive people telling us to vote for energy.

The Vote4Energy website has lots of facts and figures (all without attribution, so we don’t know how to check if they are true), including projections of how many jobs could be created with a greater supply of domestic energy. Vote4Energy gives us 6 energy issues, including access to energy, energy security, jobs, taxes on energy, consumer needs and the environment (which focuses on not “undermining the economy,” an unveiled code phrase for deregulation).

Vote4Energy also uses many web pages to propose actions that energy voters can take, including registering to vote, writing letters, attending Vote4Energy events and holding letter-writing parties. It provides information and calls-to-action related to every one of the 50 states of the union. You can actually download voter registration forms for all 50 states.  There’s also a place to join, which costs nothing but requires you to give all your personal contact information to the organizers of the Vote4Energy movement.

The funny thing about the website is that it keeps talking about domestic sources of energy, but it only ever mentions oil and natural gas in the boiler plate description of the “organization,” in which nuclear, renewable and alternative energy sources appear in a list that begins with fossil fuels. For this one mention of non-fossil fuels I found dozens of mentions of oil and natural gas until I stopped counting.

Funnier still: the only specific action related to a real issue, as opposed to the nebulous concept of “developing our plentiful domestic energy,” is to remind President Obama that time is running out to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which will run from Canada to multiple U.S. destinations. Any frequent follower of the news knows that this pipeline is extremely controversial because of its high cost and the environmental havoc it will wreak along thousands of miles. The Natural Resources Defense Council has stated that the Keystone XL undermines the U.S. commitment to an economy built on clean energy and instead would deliver dirty fuel from oil tar sands at a high cost. And no, I didn’t get that last piece of information from the Vote4Energy website!

It came as no surprise, then, to discover that Vote4Energy is a project of the American Petroleum Institute (API), which represents 490 oil and natural gas companies.

The approach is quite deceptive for two reasons: 1) API keeps saying “energy,” but it clearly means oil and gas; 2) it focuses on actions that are depicted as empowering to voters, but the one specific action it advocates is to put pressure on the Obama Administration to make the decision to build a pipeline opposed by a large and growing number of state and national elected officials, environmentalists and even some oil refineries.

What’s truly fascinating is that API has launched what is in part a voter registration campaign. API member companies and their executives tend to give money and votes to Republicans, who for the past few years have been pursuing an aggressive campaign to make it harder for people to vote.   

I’m not proposing a conspiracy theory by any means. I would be extremely shocked to learn that the API and the Republican Party are working together to create a more conservative electorate. 

But what is true is that both Republicans and the API are using deceptive means to cook the voting rolls. The Republican Party is sponsoring and passing state laws that restrict voters based on the bogus issue of voting fraud, which is statistically non-existent. The API is encouraging voting among people whom they have deceived with their misleading marketing campaign.

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