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Greenpeace Asks For Senate Investigation Into Newsweek's Big Oil Forum

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On Tuesday, Newsweek hosted a climate and energy policy forum on Capitol Hill with the American Petroleum Institute. Now Greenpeace, which has been hectoring the magazine for weeks over its plans to partner with Big Oil for this forum, has asked the Senate to investigate whether the event was in violation of congressional rules.

In a letter to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, Greenpeace director Phil Radford cites guidelines that prohibit the "use of Senate space for any commercial, promotional, or profit-making purpose" and "signs, placards, photographs, brochures or pamphlets displaying a group or company name or logo."

Radford attached to his letter pamphlets and flyers from the event that featured both the Newsweek and API logos.

Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman moderated the panel, which included API lobbyist Jack Gerard with Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

"Credible institutions like Newsweek and the U.S Congress need to stop doing business with un-credible institutions like the American Petroleum Institute," Greenpeace director Phil Radford told HuffPost. "Newsweek is using its advertising to allow corporations to buy access to Congress. It's part of this huge campaign of Big Oil to sap tax dollars for more subsidies when we really need clean energy jobs."

API has spent $5.8 million lobbying so far in 2009, according to disclosure reports.

Here's the Greenpeace letter:

December 3, 2009

Senator Charles Schumer

Senate Committee on Rules and Administration

305 Russell Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Schumer,

As you may know, on Tuesday, December 1st, Newsweek Magazine and the American Petroleum Institute (API) co-sponsored a controversial "forum" in the Mansfield Room (S-207) in the US Capitol Building. According to the admission of public relations staff at Newsweek and several news accounts, API paid Newsweek enough to make the trade group eligible to co-sponsor an "Executive Forum." As part of API's advertising deal with Newsweek, the group's President, registered lobbyist Jack Gerard, was granted the only non-governmental seat on the panel aside from a Newsweek editor.

After reviewing the Senate Rules governing events held at the US Capitol, I believe this forum violated the guidelines governing events held in the Senate Wing of the US Capitol or in Senate office buildings. I am writing to urge you to investigate this matter and share the findings of that investigation with the public. Additionally, I hope you will consider the greater impact that this type of conduct could have on the public's perception of the United States Congress. The United States Capitol is not a convention center with rooms available to the lobbyist who signs the largest check, nor is it a venue for any private, profit-making company to promote its product.

The Senate Committee on Rules and Administration provides clear guidance for events held in taxpayer-funded facilities like the Capitol:

Commercial, Promotional or Profit Making Events

* Booking and use of Senate space for any commercial, promotional, or profit-making purpose is strictly prohibited.

* No signs, placards, photographs, brochures or pamphlets displaying a group or company name or logo are permitted.

* No products or services may be promoted or sold on the premises. No promotional material may be distributed on the premises.

Several members of my staff attended the "forum" and provided the details below that prove that this event was beyond the pale of acceptable conduct within the walls of the US Capitol. You will find attached with this letter documentation of many of the claims made below.

The "forum", which was moderated by Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman, featured a panel that included Gerard and three members of Congress: Senator Byron Dorgan, Representative Edward Markey and Representative Fred Upton. Other members of Congress and their staff also attended the "forum", which included food, wine, and beer as refreshments, the cost of which was presumably covered by API's package deal. Despite the Senate rule banning promotional materials and company names and logos, the Mansfield room was covered in brochures, signs and other materials that outwardly promoted API, Newsweek and the magazine's advertisers. Examples include:

* At the beginning of the "forum" each seat was covered by an API brochure that featured the group's logo and included the tagline "America's oil and natural gas industry supports over 9 million jobs. One of them may be yours."
* Newsweek provided every attendee with copies of its magazine and other materials that included paid advertisements.
* Posters located at the front of the room and at the entrance to the Mansfield room included both Newsweek's and API's corporate logos.

These materials appear to be in clear violation of the rules banning promotional material in the Senate wing of the Capitol and Senate office buildings. I hope you share my shock that API was permitted to pay Newsweek for the opportunity to directly influence members of Congress and their staff with brochures and other information just steps from the Senate floor. It is equally disturbing that Newsweek was permitted to use the room in the first place and to distribute copies of the publication, which included numerous advertisements.

As you and your colleagues debate energy and climate legislation that could put our nation on the course to a new clean energy economy, I hope you agree that it is critically important to ensure that no lobbyist or interest group is able to buy special "pay-to-play" access to influence members or their staff. This "Executive Forum" clearly violated the "letter of the law" governing events at the US Capitol and it threatens to undermine Congress's credibility as faithful stewards of the public trust.

Finally, it is worth noting that members of my staff attempted to ask Mr. Gerard on camera about API's financial relationship to Newsweek regarding this event and he repeatedly refused.

I hope that your three committees will investigate this matter and inform the public about these troubling violations of Congressional rules and ethics laws.

Sincerely,
Phil Radford
Greenpeace Executive Director

Encl: Two Photos of Newsweek and API promotional materials

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