Front Group Created by Lobbying Firm Worked Alongside Trump Administration to Gain Support for NEPA Rollbacks from Republican Governors

A campaign dubbed “Building a Better America” worked behind-the-scenes, alongside the Trump Administration, to seek out support from Republican Governors for rolling back the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Building a Better America is a 501(c)(4) entity run by two lobbying firms that share many of its staff, 50-State LLC and GuidePost Strategies, and was formed to support the Trump Administration’s NEPA rollbacks. The group generated more than 496,000 comments supporting the proposed rule, according to an analysis of the language that appears on its website under “Take Action” and the same language that appears in the federal register under the proposed rule.

Building a Better America and Trump Energy Adviser Francis Brooke participated in a February 2020 call requesting support of the proposed rule from Republican Governors through a number of tactics, including submitting comments to the Federal Register. Building a Better America provided draft template letters to submit formal comments and offered to help governors with draft op-eds for local newspapers and to host public events with stakeholders in states.

Documented uncovered these efforts through a number of state public record requests made to Governor offices. Below are some of the highlights of the emails obtained by Documented:

  • The Republican Governors Public Policy Committee (RGPPC), the policy arm of the corporate-backed Republican Governors Association (RGA), hosted a call in February 2020 with Republican Governors’ offices about the proposed NEPA rollback.
  • RGA is a 527 political organization that can accept unlimited contributions from wealthy donors, corporations and lobbyists. Contributions to RGA funds TV ads and mailers that help elect Republican Governors to office. Numerous energy corporations are financial backers of RGA. According to an IRS filing that reported contributions to RGA between January through March 2020, reviewed by Documented, funding to the group includes Koch Industries ($250,000), ConocoPhillips ($75,000), NextEra Energy ($250,000), Ygrene Energy Fund ($100,000), Alliant Energy ($100,000), Xcel Energy ($250,000), American Petroleum Institute ($135,000), WPX Energy ($100,000), Southern Company ($100,000), Marathon Oil ($100,000), and Marathon Petroleum ($400,000).
  •  A “confidential readout” from the call stated Trump Energy Adviser Francis Brooke provided “responses to common criticisms” of the proposed rule and “illustrative examples from states where projects have been slowed or delayed due to NEPA permitting.” Brooke requested Governors submit formal comments to the Federal Register and explained “illustrative examples from states where projects have been slowed or delayed due to NEPA permitting would be helpful in making the regulatory changes as defensible as possible.”
  • During the call, a representative from a lobbyist-run front group called “Building a Better America,” offered “suggested messaging” and told the group they could help governors submit formal comments, draft op-eds for local newspapers and host public events with stakeholders in states. Building a Better America provided confidential talking points on the NEPA rollbacks and wrote draft letters for Republican Governors to use, aimed at amplifying Republican Governors support for the rule. 
  • As a result, Republican Alabama Governor Kay Ivey submitted comments under the rule, borrowing heavily from the language from one of two letters provided to the Republican Governors written by Building a Better America.
  • Additional emails obtained by Documented show within hours of President Donald Trump’s announcement of the rule, 50-State, LLC Vice President Larissa Martin sent nearly identical emails to at least two Republican Governor offices requesting supportive statements about the rule. Martin attached a “confidential” document stamped with the “Building a Better America” logo outlining “benefits” of the proposed rule and describes the coalition as “American workers, job creators, and state and local leaders who understand that better infrastructure means more jobs and a more dynamic, competitive economy.”

The emails and letter submitted by Governor Ivey can be viewed below:

Photo of President Donald Trump’s press conference announcing the NEPA reforms by Shealah Craighead / White House, used under public domain.

Murray Energy CEO to Host Trump Fundraiser

Robert Murray, CEO of the coal company Murray Energy Corporation, will host a private fundraising event for President Trump in Wheeling, West Virginia on July 24, 2019, according to an event invitation obtained by Documented. 

The event has been widely reported. Documented is the first to publish the invitation to the event as well as a letter from Murray to the West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, requesting his participation. The West Virginia MetroNews reported that Governor Justice “intends to be there.”

“The future of the coal industry and our family livelihoods depend on President Trump being re-elected,” the letter states. “All twenty Democrats who have announced that they are running for President against him have, as you know, vowed to eliminate the use of coal. Democrat members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives are currently doing the same.”

Murray Energy Corporation contributed $300,000 to President Trump’s inauguration committee and the Trump administration has provided several wins for the coal industry. Most recently, the EPA finalized the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, which replaced the Obama Administration’s efforts to combat climate change called the Clean Power Plan. 

The event invitation and letter to Governor Justice, which was obtained through a public records request made to the West Virginia’s Governor’s office, can be viewed below and here.

Photograph by Michael Vadon. Used under Creative Commons license.

Oil Refinery Lobbyists Drafted Letter for Governors to Support Rollback in Fuel Standards

The oil refinery lobbying group American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) drafted a joint Governors’ letter “vigorously” supporting the Trump Administration’s proposed rule that would rollback Obama-era Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and asked for signatures from the Governors of Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. 

The email correspondence, obtained by Documented through a public records request made to the Mississippi Governor’s office, provide a behind-the-scenes look into AFPM’s efforts to gain support for the Trump Administration’s proposed fuel economy rule from Republican Governors. 

AFPM sent the letter to the Mississippi Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel Whitney Lipscomb in September 2018. 

Documented previously reported that AFPM, with the help of the Republican Governors Association and their policy arm Republican Governors Public Policy Committee, circulated a subsequent joint Governors’ letter to Lipscomb and several other offices in October 2018. Governors from Texas, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota and Oklahoma ultimately signed that letter and it was published in the federal register. Documented also revealed that AFPM had “been shopping around op-ed” to Republican Governors in Wyoming and Nebraska, which would have also showed support for the rule. 

The message obtained by Documented is highlighted in a new report from DeSmog about the latest efforts of the Trump Administration’s efforts to rollback fuel Obama-era standards.

Below is the email correspondence obtained by Documented:

Photograph by Wikimedia Commons user Wsiegmund. Used under creative commons license.

Koch-Backed Tech Group Behind Tool Used to Push Union Opt-Out Campaigns

The Lincoln Network, a group started with seed money from the Charles G. Koch Foundation, is behind online technology called “Edunity” that is being deployed to encourage teachers and other public sector union members to leave their unions.

According to an online member update from the State Policy Network (SPN), the tool was designed in “partnership with several SPN member organizations.” SPN is a network of corporate-backed think tanks. Many of the groups in the network have also received funding from the Koch network of organizations and foundations. Other donors to SPN have included AT&T, Altria, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, Philip Morris.

According to SPN: “Lincoln designed and developed a technology platform to handle the end-to-end opt-out process from a public-sector union and provide leaving union members competitive benefits.”

The benefits to union members who quit their union using Edunity, would include “discounts to useful major retailers, from Target to Microsoft.”

Since June 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME, SPN and its member groups have been promoting anti-union opt-out campaigns.

SPN was well positioned to take advantage of the Janus decision. The Illinois Policy Institute, the SPN group in Illinois, was behind the lawsuit. Soon after the court issued its ruling, the Illinois Policy Institute hired Mark Janus.

As Rachel Cohen and myself wrote about recently for The Intercept, SPN is engaging in long and multi-faceted campaign to drain unions of members and resources. SPN publicly talks about empowering workers, but on a call with their donors that was published with our article, SPN leaders were more straightforward about their motivations. Describing the Janus case to the donors, Tracie Sharp, CEO of SPN said: “Once this ruling comes down — and we do expect it to come down in our favor — everything will change. The door to pass a dream list of free-market reforms is going to swing open for us.”

“The flexible opt-out workflow feature is plug-and-play, and it can break through any type of barrier a union builds to prevent an opt-out,” SPN boasted.

Photograph of Charles Koch by Kevin Moloney/Fortune Brainstorm TECH. Used under creative commons license.

New ALEC Membership List Names More Legislators Tied to the Group

A membership list detailing the names of more than 200 members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) reveals dozens of legislators not previously associated with the group.

The list of members on the ALEC Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development (CIED) task force, was obtained by Documented through an Ohio public records request.

The CIED task force at ALEC promotes model legislation that concerns employee rights in the workplace, including opposing increases to the minimum wage, and undermining the right to organize in a union.  (For more on how corporate lobbyists use ALEC to promote their agenda, see here).

ALEC does not list its members publicly. Documented previously published a registration list from a 2017 meeting, which revealed hundreds of legislative members. The new CIED roster provides an additional 173 ALEC legislators that were not disclosed in the 2017 registration list, including 49 who appear not to have previously been associated with ALEC publicly. This analysis compared the new names against previously identified ALEC members on The Center for Media and Democracy’s ALEC Politicians list, and Stand Up to ALEC’s database.

Noteworthy legislators included in the list:

  • Former Arkansas State Senator Jon Woods was found guilty in May 2018 on 15 of 17 counts in a federal corruption trial and is currently serving time in prison.
  • Former Utah Representative Jon Stanard abruptly resigned in February 2018 after allegations of meeting a prostitute for sex became public. According to news reports, taxpayer funds were used to pay for the hotel stays with the prostitute.
  • Georgia State Representative Darlene Taylor received national attention following a speech she made related to an anti-abortion fetal “heartbeat” bill. “Who speaks for the baby named Fetus? Who speaks for the baby named Fetus? Well today I’m going to. To quote baby Fetus, ‘I deserve to have the right, too. Some may squarm in their seats or turn their backs. But I will speak today. Baby fetus says and I quote ‘I have that right. Don’t be afraid or intimidated about acknowledging me,'” said Taylor.
  • Oklahoma State Representative Jeff Coody made controversial comments in March 2018, in which he said teachers’ demands for pay raises amounted to extortion.
  • Vermont State Representative Pattie McCoy and Maryland Delegate Johnny Mautz were outspoken opponents of bills in their state that would increase minimum wage.
  • News reports in Virginia highlighted Delegate Margaret Ransone’s comments in a subcommittee that heard measures to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Ransone opposed the measure and said in the committee that “I don’t need words on a piece of paper. God made us all equal and I am not going to support this ERA resolution that’s before the body today.”

The full roster can be found here (note that multiple legislators appear twice in the original document). Below is a searchable version of the roster compiled by Documented, without duplicate names.

State Last Name First Name
Alabama Faulkner David
Alabama Garrett Danny
Alabama Hill Mike
Alabama Ledbetter Nathaniel
Alabama Reed Greg
Alabama Wilcox Margie
Alaska Sullivan-Leonard Colleen
Alaska Tilton Cathy
Arizona Gray Rick
Arizona Livingston David
Arizona Mosley Paul
Arizona Norgaard Jill
Arizona Nutt Becky
Arizona Syms Maria
Arizona Weninger Jeffrey
Arkansas Brown Karilyn
Arkansas Womack Richard
Arkansas Woods Jon
Colorado Leonard Tim
Colorado Liston Larry
Colorado Navarro Clarice
Colorado Priola Kevin
Colorado Tate Jack
Connecticut Camillo Fred
Connecticut Rutigliano David
Florida Ahern Larry
Florida La Rosa Michael
Florida Miller Mike
Florida Raulerson Daniel
Georgia Burns Jon
Georgia Dollar Matthew
Georgia Meadows John
Georgia Nimmer Chad
Georgia Powell Alan
Georgia Pruett Jimmy
Georgia Shaw Jason
Georgia Smith Richard
Georgia Taylor Darlene
Georgia Williamson Bruce
Idaho Barbieri Vito
Illinois Barickman Jason
Illinois Brady William
Illinois Fortner Mike
Illinois Oberweis Jim
Illinois Severin Dave
Illinois Wheeler Keith
Indiana Brown Elizabeth
Indiana Burton Woody
Indiana Eberhart Sean
Iowa Carlson Gary
Iowa Costello Mark
Iowa Deyoe Dave
Iowa Landon John
Iowa Pettengill Dawn
Iowa Shipley Tom
Kansas Alley Larry
Kansas Billinger Richard
Kansas Claeys J.R.
Kansas Denning Jim
Kansas Dove Willie
Kansas Lynn Julia
Kentucky Decesare Jim
Kentucky Duplessis Jim
Kentucky Kerr Alice
Kentucky Miller Jerry
Kentucky Mills Robby
Kentucky Osborne David
Kentucky Santoro Sal
Kentucky Seum Dan
Kentucky Upchurch Ken
Louisiana Davis Paula
Louisiana Erdey Dale
Louisiana Simon Scott
Louisiana Talbot Kirk
Louisiana Wright Mark
Maine Cebra Richard
Maine Hawke Stephanie
Maine Kinney Jonathan
Maine Picchiotti John
Maine Ward Karl
Maryland Adams Christopher
Maryland Mautz Johnny
Maryland Ready Justin
Massachusetts Dooley Shawn
Massachusetts Kane Hannah
Massachusetts McKenna Joseph
Michigan Hune Joe
Michigan Kowall Mike
Michigan Lilly James
Michigan Marino Steve
Michigan Reilly John
Michigan Vaupel Hank
Michigan Webber Michael
Mississippi Bennett Richard
Mississippi Blackwell Kevin
Mississippi Carmichael Videt
Mississippi Chism Gary
Mississippi Delano Scott*
Mississippi Ford Kevin
Mississippi Touchstone Brad
Mississippi Turner Jerry
Missouri Hoskins Denny
Missouri Reisch Cheri
Missouri Richard Ron
Missouri Rone Don
Missouri Taylor Jered
Missouri Wieland Paul
Montana Salomon Daniel
Nebraska Lindstrom Brett
Nebraska Lowe John
Nebraska Scheer Jim
Nebraska Realty Craighead Joni
Nevada Settelmeyer James
New Hampshire Daniels Gary
New Hampshire Fraser Valerie
New Hampshire Sanborn Laurie
New Mexico Adkins David
New Mexico Brown Cathrynn
New Mexico Dow Rebecca
New Mexico Griggs Ron
New Mexico little Ricky
New Mexico Nibert Greg
New Mexico Sharer William
North Carolina Conrad Debra
North Carolina Dulin Andy
North Carolina Hall Destin
North Carolina Sauls John
North Carolina Szoka John
North Dakota Louser Scott
North Dakota Ruby Dan
North Dakota Sorvaag Ronald
North Dakota Vigesaa Don
Ohio Brinkman Tom
Ohio Henne Michael
Ohio Hood Ronald
Ohio Hottinger Jay
Ohio Perales Rick
Ohio Zeltwanger Paul
Oklahoma Bergstrom Micheal
Oklahoma Bice Stephanie
Oklahoma Brown Bill
Oklahoma Coody Jeff
Oklahoma Daniels Julie
Oklahoma Kerbs Dell
Oklahoma Lepak Mark
Oklahoma McDaniel Randy
Oklahoma McDonnell Kevin
Oklahoma McDugle Kevin
Oklahoma Moore Lewis
Oklahoma Mulready Glen
Oklahoma Sanders Mike
Oklahoma Treat Greg
Oregon Heard Dallas
Pennsylvania Ryan Francis
Rhode Island Giarrusso Antonio
Rhode Island Morgan Patricia
South Carolina Anderson Carl
South Carolina Atwater Todd
South Carolina Crawford Heather
South Carolina Forrester P. Michael
South Carolina Henderson Phyllis
South Dakota Beal Arch
South Dakota Greenfield Brock
South Dakota Haverly Terri
South Dakota Novstrup Al
South Dakota Willadsen Mark
Tennessee Carr Bruce
Tennessee Hazlewood Patsy
Tennessee Howell Dan
Tennessee Lynn Susan
Tennessee Marsh Owen
Tennessee Powers Dennis
Tennessee Tracy Jim
Tennessee Travis Ron
Texas Faircloth Wayne
Texas Flynn Dan
Texas Hancock Kelly
Texas Isaac Jason
Texas Shaheen Matt
Texas Smithee John
Utah Anderegg Jacob
Utah Buxton Gregg
Utah Cullimore Kirk
Utah Froerer Gage
Utah Harper Wayne
Utah Hemmert Daniel
Utah Ipson Don
Utah Stanard Jon
Utah Stevenson Jerry
Utah Wilson Brad
Vermont Collamore Brian
Vermont Degree Dustin
Vermont McCoy Patricia
Vermont Mullin Kevin
Vermont Savage Brian
Virginia Austin Terry
Virginia Cosgrove John
Virginia Hugo Timothy
Virginia Ingram Riley
Virginia Kilgore Terry
Virginia Marshall Danny
Virginia Ransone Margaret
Virginia Ruff Frank
Washington State Angel Janice
West Virginia Howell Gary
Wisconsin August Tyler
Wisconsin Darling Alberta
Wisconsin Lasee Frank
Wisconsin Skowronski Kenneth
Wyoming Eklund John
Wyoming Emerich Fred
Wyoming Eyre Danny

* “Gregory” appeared in the original roster

Republican Attorneys General Group Hosting “Oil and Gas Summit”

The Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which receives substantial funding from numerous fossil fuel industry entities, will host an “oil and gas summit” in Houston, Texas on Monday, April 8. A copy of a  heavily redacted draft agenda, obtained by Documented via a pubic records request from the North Dakota Attorneys General office, outlines a luncheon, energy roundtable discussion and two unspecified issue briefings.

RAGA is a 527 political organization that can accept unlimited funds from corporations and individuals and is required to disclose these contributors to the IRS in periodic filings. As previously reported by Documented, the fossil fuel industry makes up a large portion of its funders, including several oil and gas companies headquartered in Texas where the event is to  be held. Contributors to RAGA in 2018 included:

  • Noble Energy, Inc ($1,000,000)
  • Anadarko Petroleum Corporation ($1,000,000)
  • Koch Industries ($550,000)
  • Range Resources Corporation ($100,000)
  • Newfield Exploration Company ($100,000)
  • ExxonMobil ($75,000)
  • ConocoPhillips Company ($50,000)
  • Hilcorp Energy Company ($25,000)
  • CenterPoint Energy ($25,000)

According to a 2019 membership document, obtained by Documented, in return for contributions of $15,000-$250,000 or above, corporations and individuals receive access to Republican Attorneys General and their staff at events including this summit. According to the document, membership benefits include “policy conference calls”, an “annual opportunity to lead issue briefings with Republican Attorney General”, and the “opportunity to submit issue panel topics, and to be a panelist”.

The membership levels range from annual contributions of $15,000 (“Attorneys General Committee”), $25,000 (“Attorneys General Roundtable”), $50,000 (“Attorneys General Capitol Club”), $125,000 (Edmund Randolph Club) and $250,000 (Victory Fund, the membership benefits at this level are only available upon request).