The Conversation

Sen. Inhofe: White House and OFA Appear to Be Coordinating Environmental Messages

Wednesday Sentator Jim Inhofe, ranking member of Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Oversight, sent a letter to Nancy Sutley at the White House Council on Environmental Quality suggesting potential coordination between the White House and outside political groups involved in campaign related activity. The Hatch Act forbids federal employees in the executive branch from engaging in political activity.

In the letter sent to Sutley, highlighted Thursday by Eddie Scarry at the Blaze, Sen. Inhofe writes:

Over the past several days, a number of news reports have noted your participation, together with other administration officials and Members of Congress, in environmental advocacy events that are taking place in Providence, Rhode Island and Hartford, Connecticut. It appears these events, coordinated by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), have coincidentally fallen in conjunction with the Obama political apparatus, Organizing for Action's (OFA) massive campaign this week against sitting Members of Congress whose views on climate change oppose those of the President.

On the same day, Sen. Inhofe sent a nearly identical letter to Curt Spalding, the Region 1 Administrator of the EPA. Both letters appear to be referring to news stories like this one which indicate that Sutley and Spalding were on hand when the bus tour made a stop in Rhode Island. A photo shows Spalding standing behind the 8-year-old girl who was a featured speaker. The website associated with the bus tour also highlighted their presence at the event.

A closer look does suggest some possible coordination with the very similar but clearly partisan campaign being run by Organizing for Action. For instance, in July the bus tour's web site devoted a blog post to highlighting the work being done on the issue by OFA. At the end of the post, the unidentified author encourages readers to "Answer the president’s call to action and say “I Will” by pledging to attend an Action August event in your area." The link goes to a sign up page for OFA volunteers. In other words, the website connected with the bus tour directly recruited for OFA.

There are also some striking similarities in the text and graphics used by both campaigns. The bus used for the bus tour features the words "I Will" in giant letters as does all of the signage created for the tour. The coalition's website features the same words in large letters on the landing page superimposed over a photo of the President.

Meanwhile, OFA is also using the phrase "I will" in their eerily similar campaign. The OFA web page reads "I will help President Obama..." with the words "I will" set off in a different color. It also asks visitors to share a graphic on their Facebook page featuring the words "I will" highlighted in blue.

Also, the hashtag which appears on the side of the Climate Action Change bus and on the group's signage is #ActOnClimate. The White House encouraged people to use this hashtag and OFA has also extensively used it. For instance, here, here and here.

One of the few distinctive elements of the OFA effort is their focus on "deniers." OFA has a new ad targeting Republicans as climate change "deniers." The group also has a website with a map listing Members of Congress it considers "deniers." However speakers who appeared on the bus tour also talked about "deniers." You can see Rep. Pingree of Portland, ME mention it about one minute into this clip.

As Sen. Inhofe's letter points out, "The OFA activities are clearly political in nature, solely targeting Republican members of the House and Senate for campaign purposes." How distinct is this from the bus tour which has the same goal, takes place at the same time, uses the same hashtag, highlights the same words from the President's speech ("I will") and which directs people to get involved in the OFA campaign? It's an amazing coincidence that, without any coordination at all, both groups have come up with nearly identical messaging.

Sen. Inhofe's letter goes on to say "the appearance, with the press at least, is that CEQ and EPA are in lockstep with OFA in campaign related events that are not only designed to actively push the President's political agenda, but also actively target Members of Congress." He adds "It raises serious questions about whether OFA is actually the independent entity the White House claims it to be..." Based on this appearance of improper coordination between the administration and OFA, Sen. Inhofe requests copies of all correspondence between CEQ staff and OFA.

In July Politico reported that "the White House, congressional Democrats and their allies" were plotting a "full court press" on climate change during the August recess. After mentioning an OFA rally scheduled for August, the article adds that the "Obama administration has launched its own campaign to sell the climate plan, with the president dispatching key members of his administration — including newly confirmed EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz — to take part in 'an aggressive outreach effort,' a White House official said in an email."

Politco cites a Democratic leadership aide who indicates that "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats are working with OFA and outside groups to promote the president’s agenda broadly."

There is clearly the appearance of coordination between the bus tour which administration members are supporting and the OFA campaign targeting members of one party in the run up to an election. Demonstrating that it is more than just a coincidence will require getting access to the correspondence Sen. Inhofe is now seeking.

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