University Funds used in PR war, files show
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 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 channelling 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 threeday event outside of the first international meeting of parties to the Kyoto Protocol.
Climate skeptics attacked Liberal government environmental policies at that meeting.
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.
"We were there to present our views," said Douglas Leahey, president of the Friends of Science until June.
"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 analyse 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.
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 e-mail. "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 co-ordinate "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 vicepresident, before shutting down the accounts in 2007 in the wake of an audit that determined some activities were political in nature.
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 Ontario markets, including Ottawa, in the weeks before the vote, which attacked the Liberal government's climate change policies with money from the university research accounts.
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