Michael Zehr works for HBW Resources as Vice President of Federal Affairs. HBW Resources has been in my connect-the-dots data because in February 2009, the American Petroleum Institute (API) hired HBW Resources. Andrew Browning, a partner in HBW Resources is the lobbyist.
Browning is the “B” in HBW Resources, David Holt is the “H”, and Michael Whatley is the “W”, but we will get into their connections a bit later in this article.
I hadn’t done much “dot chasing” with regards to HBW Resources, but since Zehr was nice enough to follow me on twitter, I decided that it was time. And besides, if he is checking out my “tweets”, I figure turn about is fair play. That’s his “twitter pic” to the left.
No big surprise, Zehr is a Senate Revolving Door, meaning he previously worked in the US Senate. The Revolving Door is a frequent occurrence.
- 2009: Minority Staff Director, US Senate Subcommittee on Aging
- 2009-2010: Legislative Director, Former Senator George S LeMieux (R-FL). LeMieux appointed on September 9, 2009, to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Melquiades R. Martinez; took the oath of office and served from September 10, 2009, to January 3, 2011; did not seek election in 2010.
- 2006-2009: Legislative Director, Former Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) Martinez resigned stating he was homesick, however he had his share of controversy which included the Terry Schiavo memo. In 2005 amid the right-to-life case involving Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Pinellas County woman who ultimately was removed from a feeding tube. Martinez, who sought federal review of the case, accidentally handed a Democratic senator a memo detailing why the Schiavo bill was good for Republicans. And there was also the problem of illegal campaign contributions, and Campaign Finance irregularities.
- 2003-2006: Legislative Assistant, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
- 1999-2003: Legislative Assistant, Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR)
Spinning through the revolving door, Zehr started up a company called Rhone Strategies. The company looks defunct, it has 0 employees, and not much on the website to indicate it is active. Rhone Strategies describes itself as: Rhone Strategies is a full-service political intelligence and government
relations firm specializing in detailed political analysis and innovative strategic advocacy. Our expertise in government relations and analysis has been built through more than a decade of dealing with all aspects of federal relations, policy development and political strategy.
Zehr is listed as a lobbyist for HBW Resources. The top industries he represents include Tobacco, Misc. Energy, Air Transport. TOBACCO??? Hey, its another Fracking Joe Camel!
In any sector, the public and political relation game is played using a now popular technique called the echo chamber.
Echo chamber is a colloquial term used to describe a group of media outlets that tend to parrot each other’s uncritical reports on the views of a single source, or that otherwise relies on unquestioning repetition of official sources.
Philip Morris & the Echo Chamber Technique: In 1998 John Scruggs, a Washington D.C. lobbyist for Philip Morris described the “echo chamber” approach to advocacy as constituting the repetition of a selected message by the most credible sources that surround a decision maker. “The more a particular view or piece of information ‘echoes’ or resonates through this group, the greater its impact. Grassroots efforts are so effective in modern day advocacy programs because they cause many constituents to repeat the same message to the target Member. Grasstops or “Influentials” campaigns work because those highest on the hierarchy scale, with the greatest degree of credibility, repeat the same or similar messages. You will note that the echo chamber effect can work in two different ways. First, the same message can reverberate among multiple sources toward the target Members. For example, the same information from polling data captured in a single poll can be repeated by the media, congressional colleagues, lobbyists and advertising. Second, similar but complementary messages can be repeated by a single source…Either the repetition or “piling on” approach provide the same result: enhanced credibility and influence of the essential message,” he explained.
The Phillip Morris Echo Chamber Technique is being applied to the issue of Natural Gas. Between 1998 and today, the echo chamber has expanded to include multiple websites and blogs. The echo chamber no longer depends on traditional media outlets like television, radio, newspapers and magazines.
In my research into the Natural Gas public relations, the echo chamber reminds me more of a puffer fish. A puffer fish will inflate itself with water several times its original size to appear larger and discourage any potential predator from attacking. The Natural Gas industry also inflates its influence several times over through the use of and cooperation between its front groups.
The US Carbon standard is a good example of how the “echo chamber” has morphed into a puffer fish.
Big Oil and Canada thwarted U.S. carbon standards – Emails show how a Washington lobbyist enlisted Canadian officials to beat back U.S. carbon standards | By Geoff Dembicki | Salon.com | Dec 15, 2011
Despite their skills and experience, Mar and Whatley knew that defeating climate policy required allies. That’s why one of the first strategy proposals in Whatley’s January 25, 2010, campaign briefing to Mar was to team up with “affiliated energy coalitions and trade associations, thought leaders, elected officials, unions and key allies.” The goal was to enlist these players to “build opposition” towards low carbon fuel standards “in each of our target regions.” The campaign apparently needed “state-based and regional 3rd party advocates for Canadian oil sands” to give it legitimacy.
Who better to play that role than the “energy consumer groups” — the airlines, truckers, railroads, highway users, shippers — most dependent on oil? So item #1 on Whatley’s “Action Plan” was to develop “easy-to-read and user friendly informational briefs” for trade associations, unions and others. With the proper motivation, these groups could “generate op-eds and letters to the editor of regional and local newspapers,” reads the proposal. And they could also “write letters to governors and key elected officials.”
This supposed popular groundswell would then be legitimized further, it explained, by a select group of “thought leaders”, those public intellectuals with the ear of political power. Whatley’s proposal suggested engaging with seven prominent think tanks, two of which, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, received millions of dollars in funding from Koch Industries to question the science behind global warming.
To keep everything moving smooth, HBW Resources (aka the Consumer Energy Alliance) would perform its traditional functions: running anti-fuel standard ad campaigns, coordinating with such “key allies” as the American Petroleum Institute, lobbying policymakers and political leaders and generating as much media attention as possible. If everything went to plan, Whatley’s briefing concluded, “HBW Resources will be able to successfully draw critical local, state and regional attention to the adverse impacts of efforts to restrict imports of Canadian oil sands into the United States.” In other words, let the assault begin!
These bullet points are strategy updates prepared by the Consumer Energy Alliance and sent by oil industry lobbyist Michael Whatley to Albertan diplomat Gary Mar and others.
Note the bullet labeled “‘Echo Chamber’ Update & Discussion.” The fact that an oil industry-supported public relations group would explicitly make reference to creating an “Echo Chamber” is quite remarkable. This term is typically part of lexicon used by environmentalists to evoke shady fossil fuel conspiracies — as in, “such and such an oil company created an Echo Chamber to spread its propaganda across the blogosphere…”
In practical terms, the Consumer Energy Alliance’s “Echo Chamber” is a strategy where any message created by that group or its supporters would be “echoed” across many different blogs and websites, creating the impression of a large-scale movement. The Alliance appears to have also utilized this tactic to rally support for TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
The same technique has been applied to the Natural Gas issue.
API has several websites as does the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA). See:
Drilling for Dots at HBW Resources
While Zehr did provide some interest, the real “DOTS” were found at HBW Resources. As mentioned previously, HBW has hired by API as lobbyists.
The centerpiece is Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), created by Michael Whately. (The same Whatley mentioned in Big Oil and Canada thwarted U.S. carbon standards).
Note the use of the word “Consumer”. This is meant to give an inclusive feel to the general public, after all we are all consumers, right? Other “inclusive” feel good words often used are America, American, or Citizens. If the target audience is more local the name of a state or town or occupation may be used. This is all carefully designed to “puff” things up and make them seem larger.
Secure Our Fuels is an interesting “hybrid” as it has several connections. The website is registered to Dittus Communications, which was taken over by FD Dynamics. FD Dynamics then became FTI Consulting. Energy-in-Depth (EID) is a public relations campaign by IPAA, and FTI Consulting manages it. A number of FTI Consulting employees are also listed as “OUR TEAM” on EID. EID’s website is also registered to Dittus Communications.
For more on EID see:
- Energy-in-Depth (EID) “GAS”roots – 1
- Energy-in-Depth (EID) “GAS”roots – 2
- Energy-in-Depth (EID) “GAS”roots – 3
Under CONTACT at the Secure our Fuels website the emails for CEA are listed. Note David Holt and Michael Whatley are listed.
(Yep, the same David Holt and Michael Whatley mentioned in Big Oil and Canada thwarted U.S. carbon standards).
What we have here are 4 “organizations: Secure Our Fuels, Consumer Energy Alliance, Southeast Energy Alliance, and Energy-in-Depth under 2 trade groups, API and IPAA, and all are funded by Natural Gas Corporations and their affiliated interests.
The puffer fish puffs bigger and bigger.
Holt is also President of CEA.
Andrew Browning, through HBW Resources is a lobbyist for API, he has also been a “Guest Blogger” on EID. Browning is the Vice President of CEA. His revolving door spins at the US Department of Energy as Special Assistant, Office of Fossil Fuels.
Michael Whatley’s “dots” are much more involved and will require an additional diagram. Let’s begin with the current diagram below.
Whatley’s Revolving Door:
- Former Chief of Staff- Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole
- US Dept. of Energy – Former Principal Deputy Assistant Director
- Former Senate Counsel- Republican Conference
OK – Next Diagram, Please!
Connected to CEA is David Blackmon as Executive Director of the CEA Texas Chapter. Blackmon was Director of Government Affairs (a lobbyist) for the El Paso Corporation, a methane gas drilling and pipeline company based in Houston, Texas. Blackmon previously served as Communications Manager for Shell Oil Company.
Whatley writes columns about the XL Pipeline, carbon capture, natural gas, climate change and energy related issues for Townhall.Com.
Townhall.com is a website that publishes numerous conservative columnists. Formerly a project of the Heritage Foundation, it was purchased in 2006 by Salem Communications Corporation.
Also writing for Townhall.com is Steve Everly, a spokeman for EID and Assistant Vice President at FTI Consulting. Everley was Manager of Policy Research at American Solutions and a contributing author to To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine by Newt Gingrich. Prior to joining American Solutions, Everley worked as a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.
What looked like a huge message PR machine is not really that big, it just puffs itself up to look that way. The cost of puffing up the message is not cheap when you factor in lobbying costs and campaign donations – and the cost is going up as word spreads through “fractivist” groups.
©2013 by Dory Hippauf