Lobbywatch Introduction

What is LobbyWatch?

LobbyWatch helps track deceptive PR. It is an off-shoot of the work of GM Watch which monitors and reports on the massive PR push behind genetically modified (GM) foods.

In the course of investigating independent-seeming 'third parties' promoting GM we came across many organisations and individuals active in corporate advocacy across a wide range of environmental, agricultural, health, development, trade and other issues.

The complex web

Take, for instance, Dr Roger Bate who operates out of a whole series of often innocuous-sounding lobby groups:

While these groups often serve as platforms for promoting GM, they are also used by Bate to launch attacks on:

  • the Kyoto treaty
  • the UN, World Health Organisation, aid agencies and NGOs
  • the weakening of drug patents
  • restrictions on smoking
  • the environmental movement 
  • the precautionary principle
  • organic farming
  • restrictions on pesticide use, on-farm antibiotics and other aspects of intensive farming
  • restrictions on industrial chemicals.

Enormous influence

It would be a mistake to see the actions of lobbyists like Bate as marginal. The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) , where Bate founded an Environmental Unit which he directed for seven years, claims to have had 'enormous influence on public policy and the views of leading politicians'.

The remarkably close links of George W. Bush's administration to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) , where Bate is a visiting fellow, are also well known. AEI is considered, for instance, one of the leading architects of Bush’s foreign policy. Ronald Reagan once remarked, 'For today the most important American scholarship comes out of our think tanks - and none has been more influential than the American Enterprise Institute.' Many leading U.S. industrialists serve on AEI's Board of Trustees , including the Vice President of Exxon and the CEOs of the Dow Chemical Company and the pharmaceutical giant Merck.

Infecting the mainstream

While individuals and organisations tracked in the LobbyWatch directory often connect closely to leading figures in the political, scientific and corporate establishments, just as important is the extent to which the ideas and rhetoric that they promote has infected the political and cultural mainstream. It was in this context that British journalist and author George Monbiot came up with the idea of lobbywatch.org as a means of more widely exposing the complex web of pro-corporate lobbying our research was uncovering, and its disturbing reach.

Follow the money

The lobby groups we look at are often backed by major corporate sponsors, as well as by a network of right wing groups, foundations and donors. Funding can run into hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars. Yet this backing is not always disclosed.

Take, for instance, The European Science and Environment Forum , which Roger Bate co-founded. Its website originally claimed ESEF accepted no corporate donations: 'To maintain its independence and impartiality, the ESEF does not accept outside funding from whatever source, the only income it receives is from the sale of its publications'. Yet papers released during a court case involving the tobacco giant Philip Morris revealed that ESEF had been established with Philip Morris money solicited by Bate. Part of ESEF's founding purpose was to smuggle opposition to restrictions on smoking into a raft of other campaign issues. ESEF was, in reality, the European equivalent of another Philip Morris- backed organisation operating in the U.S. fronted by Steve ('The Junkman') Milloy .

Part of the network

As well as operating out of a series of often inter-linking lobby groups, Bate also utilises platforms provided by others. In January 2004, for instance, he was among the speakers at a conference on 'eco-imperialism' held at the Sheraton Hotel, New York. The organisers used the event to accuse the environmental movement, within which they sought to include not only the UN and the World Health Organisation but even USAID , of waging 'war' against the poor in the developing world.

The event was organised by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and provides a classic example of how lobbyists network and coordinate their PR attacks. Among those contributing, other than Bate, were lobbyists Patrick Moore , CS Prakash and Paul Driessen, as well as Niger Innis of CORE .

Driessen, who helped CORE to organise the event, is the author of Eco-Imperialism: Green Power - Black Death. The book is published by the Free Enterprise Press, the publishing arm of The Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise (CDFE) , where Driessen is a Senior Fellow. He is also a principal of Global-Comm Partners, a Northern Virginia public relations firm specializing in energy and environmental issues.

Verbal abuse

CDFE has been hugely influential. It was the driving force behind the Wise Use movement and has been at the heart of the anti-environmental backlash. Its Vice President, Ron Arnold, was among the first to get the term 'eco-terrorist' into wide circulation, and he and CDFE have helped to shape both the language and tactics of many pro-corporate lobbyists. 'Eco-imperialism' appears to be the latest linguistic assault on the environmental movement.

In some cases the scapegoating and demonising of environmentalists appears to have contributed to their becoming the targets of physical assults, arson and even bomb attacks. Links exist between the Wise Use movement and some of America's right-wing militias. (The Green Backlash, Andrew Rowell, 1996)

Those strongly influenced by CDFE include corporate public relations experts like
Nick Nichols , Chairman and CEO of PR firm Nichols Dezenhall. Nichols not only advises his corporate clients to 'Fight like guerillas' and ' Take no prisoners' but has been known to quote the gangster Al Capone on the persuasive power of the gun, and the George Carlin line, 'If you can't beat them, arrange to have them beaten!'

Third party tactics

Driessen served as editor of Nichols' Rules for Corporate Warriors - another book published by the Free Enterprise Press. A CDFE-Wise Use PR tactic engaged in by Nichols Dezenhall, and other pro-corporate warriors, is generating 'third parties' to advocate corporate causes.

For instance, Rick Berman's PR firm, Berman & Co , runs a fake public interest site called ActivistCash.com , which seeks to persuade the foundations giving money to campaigners to desist. Berman also runs the Centre for Consumer Freedom , which looks like a citizens' group but lobbies against smoking bans, alcohol restrictions and health warnings on behalf of tobacco, drinks and fast food companies. Needless to say, Berman & Co takes big money from the tobacco, biotech, food and drinks industries.

Covert operations

The Lobby Watch profiles contain many startling examples of the lengths to which the 'third party' game can be taken, such as:  

'Fake persuaders'

The fake Center For Food and Agricultural Research (CFFAR) shows covert PR at its most insidious. CFFAR sought to portray mainstream environmental organisations as engaging in, or as linked to, violence and 'terrorism'. This message was further disseminated and reinforced through multiple internet postings by what George Monbiot has termed the 'fake persuaders': Andura Smetacek and Mary Murphy . Our research showed Smetacek, Murphy and CFFAR could all be traced back to Monsanto and its Internet PR company Bivings .

'We want to destroy'

CFFAR and Smetacek also used the concerns generated by their smears against organisations like the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy and Greenpeace, to encourage scientists and others to lobby these organisations' funders to stop their financial backing. It is the same tactic as employed by Berman & Co. via ActivistCash.com , and it comes straight out of the CDFE 'handbook'. To quote CDFE's Vice President, Ron Arnold, 'We want to destroy environmentalists by taking away their money and their members.' (New York Times, Dec 19, 1991)

Tactics and semantics

Many of those at the forefront of attacking corporate critics make use not only of Arnold's tactics but his rhetoric. Patrick Moore , a founding member of Greenpeace who went on to become a director of a Wise Use-type pro-logging front group set up by PR firm Burson Marsteller for the Canadian timber industry, talks of environmentalists as 'ultraleftists and extremists' who 'use Gestapo tactics'. He claims issues like logging and the GM debate are influenced by 'pagan beliefs and junk science'. Moore's rhetoric directly echoes Arnold 's earlier attacks on environmentalists as 'eco-fascists' and communists, as well as Arnold's call for a 'holy war against the new pagans who worship trees and sacrifice people'.

The LM network - Wise Use in Europe

Amongst those most active in trying to bring the Wise Use approach to Europe have been the Living Marxism (LM) network. The LM network provides a startling example of how a political agenda can be promoted on a very diverse set of issues via a whole array of apparently unconnected front groups.

Amongst the many groups regarded as probable LM fronts have been:

  • Africa Direct - denying the genocide in Rwanda
  • Association of British Drivers - no speed limits, yes to global warming!
  • Audacity.org - no restraints on development, no to sustainability
  • Feminists for Justice - no laws on date rape
  • Internet Freedom - no restrictions on paedophilia, race hate etc.
  • Irish Freedom Movement - no to the peace process
  • The Litigious Society - no to a 'compensation culture'
  • Transport Research Group - yes to big roads
  • WORLDwrite - anti-green gap years and exchanges.

    LobbyWatch not only identifies the LM front groups and individuals most active in the network, it also reveals which lobby groups set up by others have been colonised by the LM network.

    Self-inventing experts

    The LM network also provides a good example of how 'experts' and 'groups' can be reinvented according to the need of the time. Thomas Deichmann originally came to public notice when presented by LM and its German sister organisation Nova as an expert on the conflict in Bosnia. More recently, though, the man who once lacerated the western media over its reporting of Serbian war crimes, has been reincarnated as a biotech apologist. Thomas Deichmann now attacks the media for its coverage of GM.

    The network networks

    LM network also networks. Ron Arnold and Roger Bate were among the non-LM members who wrote for LM magazine, while Bate's ESEF has, in turn, served as a publication platform for Bill Durodi é of the LM network. Interestingly, almost all of Durodié's papers have been published in this way, e.g. via the corporate-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute ( Poisonous Propaganda ), the LM-connected Institute of Ideas ( Can we trust the experts?) and the LM-connected Audacity.org (Society loses when the polluter is made to pay ). Durodié also serves as an advisor to the Scientific Alliance , which was set up with corporate cash by PR firm Foresight Communications.

    The mainstream infected

    As already noted, in tracking these individuals and organisations, one should not make the mistake of assuming one is travelling to the distant fringes of PR and politics. The characterisation of corporate and environmental critics as 'anti-American, anti-science, anti-trade' does not end with the likes of
    CDFE 's Paul Driessen telling an interviewer, 'Greenpeace co-founder Dr. Patrick Moore argues that the movement really became radicalized after the fall of the Berlin Wall and USSR. That’s when hordes of activists left their Communist Party jobs and joined the environmental movement – bringing their anti-business, anti-American, anti-science, anti-trade, anti-civilization extremism with them.'

    This rhetoric can be found directly reflected in the statements of mainstream politicians, scientists and business leaders. In
    a letter to The Guardian , Prof Joe Perry, the chief statistician for the UK's GM farm-scale trials told the paper's readers that Patrick Moore had 'pointed to the Trotskyists and anti-capitalists who ditched socialism for the environmentalist bandwagon when the iron curtain fell, and became influential within Greenpeace and similar pressure groups.'

    In May 2003, speaking at the Natural History Museum in London, the world renowned scientist
    Peter Raven also attacked Greenpeace, telling his audience, 'Last month, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) , one of America's most venerable and respected civil rights groups, confronted Greenpeace at a public event and accused it of eco-manslaughter through its support of international policies limiting development and the expansion of technology to the developing world's poor'. What Raven didn't tell his audience, or perhaps didn't know, was that in recent years this particular 'venerable and respected civil rights' group has been described as 'a tin cup outstretched to every Hard Right political campaign or cause that finds it convenient - or a sick joke - to hire Black cheerleaders'.

    Moulding perceptions

    As George Monbiot notes, a politician like Tony Blair when addressing issues like GM also 'repeats a suite of arguments formulated elsewhere'. Monbiot, writing in The Guardian about some of the evidence to be found in these profiles, notes, ' What is fascinating about these websites, fake groups and phantom citizens is that they have either smelted or honed all the key weapons currently used by the world's biotech enthusiasts: the conflation of activists with terrorists, the attempts to undermine hostile research, the ever more nuanced claims that those who resist GM crops are anti-science and opposed to the interests of the poor. The hatred directed at activists over the past few years is, in other words, nothing of the kind. In truth, we have been confronted by the crafted response of an industry without emotional attachment.' (Corporate Phantoms)

  • Print

    Back to the Article