University climate research accounts used for PR, travel, wining and dining: records

Published by Postmedia News on Wednesday Sep 14 2011

OTTAWA – A pair of “research” accounts at the University of Calgary, funded mainly by the oil and gas industry, were used for a sophisticated international political campaign that involved high-priced consultants, lobbying, wining, dining, and travel with the goal of casting doubt on climate change science, newly-released accounting records have revealed.

The records showed that the strategy was crafted by professional firms, in collaboration with well-known climate change skeptics in Canada and abroad, allowing donors to earn tax receipts by channeling their money through the university.

All of the activities and $507,975 in spending were organized by the Friends of Science, an anti-Kyoto Protocol group founded by retired oil industry workers and academics who are skeptical about peer-reviewed research linking human activity to global warming observed in recent decades.

“Shouldn’t the science of climate change be on the agenda for (the UN climate conference)?” asked a pair of ads that appeared in the Montreal Gazette on Nov. 28 and Nov 29, 2005, inviting the public to a Friends of Science three-day event outside of the first international meeting of parties to the Kyoto Protocol – where climate skeptics proceeded to attack Liberal government environmental policies at the start of a federal election campaign.

The two ads – worth $2,070 – and about $4,000 in travel costs to the event in Montreal for an Alberta-based communications consultant (earning $100 an hour) and an academic, were purchased through accounts set up in the fall of 2004 following a request by University of Calgary political science professor Barry Cooper, according to the records, released to Postmedia News by the university under orders from Frank Work, the information and privacy commissioner of Alberta.

“I don’t know about (whether we were there) to disrupt the conference. We were there to present our views,” said Douglas Leahey, president of the Friends of Science up until June 2011. “We think that the conference should have presented both views, not just one of a propaganda exercise . . . This was part of our research activities to find out what the other side was doing and how we were interacting with them.”

Cooper was proposing to produce a DVD that would analyze debates about climate change science and policies in partnership with the Friends of Science, with a $175,000 donation from Talisman Energy, an Alberta-based oil and gas company, to kick-start their efforts.

In an interview, Leahey said the Friends of Science was advised by Cooper that their use of the research funds was appropriate.

“This was part of our research activities to find out what the other side was doing and how we were interacting with them,” – Douglas Leahey, former president of the Friends of Science.

Cooper declined to comment on “explicit details,” but said that all money was used to produce the DVD and “publicize its existence.”

“There was a debate going on at the time about (whether humans were causing global warming) and it was not being discussed outside a tiny cadre of climatologists,” Cooper said in an email. “Happily, that is no longer the case. Moreover, I viewed this issue and I still view this issue as a public policy matter more than a scientific one. How else would a political scientist be expected to view such matters?”

The project recruited APCO Worldwide, a public relations firm that produced a detailed budget and “strategic” communications plan, to coordinate “letters from experts” in support of the video, obtain media coverage in Canada, the U.S. and possibly Europe, and publish opinion pieces in mainstream newspapers to promote the product.

The university paid nearly $250,000 to APCO Worldwide, Morten Paulsen Consulting and Fleishman-Hillard Canada, where Paulsen also worked as a senior vice-president, before shutting down the accounts in 2007 in the wake of an audit that determined some activities were political in nature.

The spending also included:

* Travel expenses totalling $15,741.24 for Barry Cooper between 2005 and 2007;

* A $1,004.24 dinner at the Calgary Petroleum Club attended by Cooper, APCO consultant Tom Harris and various Friends of Science members;

* Separate donations of about $1,000 to support organizations that question climate change science in the U.S. and the United Kingdom that were coordinated by Fred Singer and Benny Peiser;

* Thousands of dollars in travel, dining and gift expenses for climate skeptics such as Tim Ball, Ross McKitrick, Madhav Khandekar from Canada as well as Sallie Baliunas from the U.S. to attend various meetings and events on behalf of the Friends of Science.

Tom Harris, who now teaches a class on global warming at Carleton University and remains active in challenging research linking human activity to climate change, referred questions about his involvement in the project to his former boss at APCO, Evan Zelikovitz, who could not immediately be reached for comment.

Morten Paulsen is now working as a communications adviser for the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, but also declined to speak about his invoices.

“I’m not prepared to comment on that,” said Paulsen, a lobbyist who previously was registered to do work for the Friends of Science, as well as energy companies such as Kinder Morgan and ConocoPhillips. “I think it would be unprofessional of me to comment on previous client work.”

Paulsen, once described by the federal Conservatives as an “unpaid spinner” for the party during the 2005-2006 election campaign, also coordinated about $13,375 worth of radio ads in five key Ontario markets – Ottawa, Peterborough, Tri-Cities, London and Thunder Bay – in the weeks before the vote, which attacked the Liberal government’s climate change policies with money from the university research accounts.

The university initially declined to release detailed invoices and records following a 2008 request under provincial freedom of information legislation and told the commissioner’s office during a recent inquiry that releasing the details was not in the public interest.

“The public body submits that . . . while the information being requested by the applicant may satisfy the curiosity of the applicant – and perhaps the curiosity of some members of the public – the release of the additional information, at the expense of the privacy of individuals, would not result in subjecting the public body to any further public scrutiny,” wrote Ivan Bernardo, the university’s counsel on Jan. 21, 2011.

The university has also billed Postmedia News $415 for processing the request for information, arguing that waiving the fees in their entirety was also “not in the public interest.”


1 thought on “University climate research accounts used for PR, travel, wining and dining: records

  1. Pingback: Mike De Souza's 20 Most Important Articles for Postmedia - The Narwhal

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