If Gerard loves a fight, he must be a happy man. Energy is one of this year’s biggest and most divisive political issues. Drilling. Fracking. Tax breaks. Soaring gasoline prices. Even pipeline permits have become front-page news.
Ever since taking the helm at API in November 2008, the pugnacious Gerard has worked to reshape the political landscape on energy issues. From the outset, he told API staffers that the group, founded in 1919 in part to promote industry-wide standards, needed to be run more like a political campaign. He ordered up newspaper and television ads targeted at the districts of lawmakers out of step with the oil industry. “I want to hang their feet to the fire,” one former senior employee recalls him saying.
Three and a half years later, Gerard is holding President Obama’s feet to the fire. A longtime supporter of fellow Mormon and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Gerard has repeatedly castigated Obama for his energy policies. He has also leaned on estimates — about the number of jobs the oil industry creates and the president’s power over oil prices — that many energy economists say are greatly inflated.
“Jack Gerard sent out a message saying we have to get out the right facts and have a reasonable discussion,” says Frank Verrastro, energy program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Verrastro’s reply: “Well yeah, you could contribute to that, and you’re not. It’s flamethrowing at this point.”
The silver-haired Gerard, 54, may not be well-known outside the business. But as API president, he can spread the institute’s views — with members’ money. In 2010, he directed $63 million, a third of API’s total budget, to an outside public relations firm, Edelman, for ad campaigns, according to API’s most recent tax return. So far this year, the API has bought at least $4.3 million in broadcast ads, largely in a handful of swing states, outspending all but a few super PACs and almost every trade group, according to figures compiled by Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group.
Much, perhaps most, of that advertising is done under names like “Energy Nation,” “Energy Citizens,” “EnergyTomorrow,” or “the People of America’s Oil and Natural Gas Industry.” In the ads, ties to API are duly noted, albeit usually in small print. Its current campaign is called Vote4Energy, appealing to different demographic groups with photos of ordinary-looking folks — “I’m Kelsie” or “I’m Roy” — beside a pitch for “developing our plentiful domestic energy resources, like oil and natural gas.” In 2010, API also gave $1 million to the Coalition for American Jobs, an entity opposed to “arbitrary” greenhouse gas regulation by the EPA and whose five officers include Gerard, API’s top lobbyist and Gerard’s successor at the American Chemistry Council.