New York Investigating Anti-Fracking Lobbying by Celebs

A formal complaint has been filed with a New York lobbying board to investigate whether Yoko Ono, Robert De Niro and nearly 200 other celebrities have violated state laws with their Artists Against Fracking activist group.

Celebrities are well known for dabbling in social activism--whether what they have to say makes sense or not--and the recent cause célèbre is the anti-fracking movement.  Along with Ono, actors Mark Ruffalo and De Niro, and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, the movement has drawn the support of some 200 celebrities all donating time and money to stop efforts toward American energy independence.

The group has sponsored rallies and concerts, and urges visitors to its website: "Tell Governor Cuomo Don't Frack New York!"

Pushing the issue on a national TV audience, Ono and son Sean even appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon to sing a somewhat ridiculous anti-fracking song at the end of January.

But the Independent Oil & Gas Association (IOGA), an industry group that supports gas drilling, has filed a complaint pointing out that no one in this celebrity-fueled group has registered as a lobbyist with the state. This, the pro-fracking group says, violates transparency laws and prevents New Yorkers from finding out how much money is being spent by the famous advocates.

This shadowy anti-fracking spending, IOGA contends, is unfair because as official lobbyists, anyone supporting fracking has to report their spending for everyone to see.

The complaint comes after a March 18 investigation in which the Associated Press discovered that the celebrity group did not appear in the database of New York's Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

AP found that under New York law, Artists Against Fracking is required to register as a lobbying group but has not.

"The public has been unable to learn how much money is being spent on this effort, what it is being spent on, and who is funding the effort," Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York told AP later in March. "I understand the power of celebrity that this organization has brought to the public discussion over natural gas development, but I do not understand why this organization is not being required to follow the state's lobbying law."

IOGA has been battling the celebrities for months. In response to another celebrity-sponsored anti-fracking rally last August, IOGA railed against the "gimmicks" and "stunts" perpetrated by Artists Against Fracking.

"Gimmicks, stunts and street theatre trivialize the debate and reflect the views of an outspoken and uninformed few. New Yorkers want data, science and reason to strike a balance between the environment and future energy production. They are concerned about offering a reasonable approach that satisfies two important objectives: framing a plan that produces a balanced energy strategy; and creating opportunity and an economic springboard for a struggling region."

According to a Quinnipiac University Poll, the celebrity effort may be swaying voters.

"There's no doubt the celebrities had an effect," Quinnipiac's Maurice Carroll said. "As far as I can tell, they made all the difference."

Spokesmen for Artists Against Fracking claim that the artists involved don't have to register as lobbyists, but at least one former New York regulator, attorney David Grandeau, thinks that claim is wrong.

"When you are advocating for the passage or defeat of legislation or proposed legislation and spend more than $5,000, you are required to register," Grandeau said. "Just because you are a celebrity doesn’t mean that lobbing laws don’t apply to you. Your celebrity status does not protect you in Albany."

Current officials from the Empire State have released no comment on the complaint.

Thus far, no reliable scientific evidence has proven that hydraulic fracturing--nicknamed fracking--is harmful to the environment.

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