A new television ad produced by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), a liberal advocacy group, has thrust Florida’s environment, and especially its offshore oil resources, into the national spotlight. At issue are false claims, with ties to the Kerry Presidential campaign, that President George W. Bush is favoring, and allowing, oil drilling off the Florida coast.
Kerry Front Group?
The wife of Democratic Presidential candidate Senator John M. Kerry, Teresa Heinz Kerry, inherited a fortune from her first husband, ketchup heir H. John Heinz III. She is currently a board member of three Heinz foundations that give large cash grants to environmental activist groups and are worth, according to IRS tax records, more than $1 billion.
According to Human Events, “Heinz foundation grants pay for groups sponsoring thinly disguised anti-business drives and partisan political campaigns. The most important group is the League of Conservation Voters (2001 revenue–$2.3 million), a political advocacy group that monitors office-holder voting records, coordinates issue campaigns, and mobilizes voters.”
In January 2004, LCV formally endorsed John Kerry for President, although other Democratic hopefuls at the time, including former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, appeared to have more support among environmental activists.
According to Human Events, “By late January, LCV had also given $18,528 directly to the Kerry Campaign. By mid-February, League political director Mark Longabaugh said the group had spent ‘six figures’ on TV ads promoting Kerry’s candidacy. By contrast, in 2000 LCV waited until April before endorsing Al Gore, whose environmental reputation was far greater than Kerry’s.”
“Stop the Drilling”
This spring, after Kerry cemented his position as presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee, LCV produced and coordinated an anti-George Bush television ad campaign that has outraged political observers. LCV ads run in major Florida television markets mislead voters into believing Bush has authorized a new oil drilling campaign off the Florida coast. To the contrary, Bush has put the brakes on a preexisting plan, initiated by former President Bill Clinton, that would have allowed oil drilling precariously close to Florida beaches.
Reported the Tampa Tribune on May 18, “Although no oil platforms exist anywhere off Florida’s coast, environmentalists are defending a new political ad set to begin airing today that features a narrator imploring President Bush to ‘stop the drilling.'”
LCV claims in its commercial that “President Bush opened up Florida’s coast to offshore drilling.”
But Florida Governor Jeb told the Tallahassee Democrat on May 18, “The predevelopment (on those leases) was done in the Clinton administration and George W. Bush stopped that in its tracks.”
The LCV commercial refers to 6 million acres of undersea land in the Gulf of Mexico that was opened up for exploration and development by the Clinton administration. Shortly after taking office, Bush removed 75 percent of the acres, including those closest to the Florida shoreline, from potential development, leaving just 1.5 million deep sea acres left for resource recovery.
Too Long to Reverse Clinton?
LCV responded to a firestorm of criticism about the ad’s false claims by asserting Bush waited too long into his term to block drilling in the Gulf. The League also justified its ad by arguing Bush’s plan to create a 100-mile buffer between oil recovery and Florida beaches is irresponsible. The Clinton administration had implemented a 17-mile buffer.
“It’s still 100 miles off the coast of Florida,” said Longabaugh.
Said LCV President Deb Callahan, “The Bush administration has been pro-drilling since Day One. I assure you, there certainly is no ambiguity about that.”
Political observers predicted the ads would backfire on Bush critics by calling attention to the President’s record of safeguarding Florida’s environment. As reported in the May 2002 issue of Environment & Climate News, President Bush teamed with Governor Bush in January 2002 in a landmark state-federal agreement that extended unprecedented environmental protections to the Florida Everglades.
Focus on Florida Environment
Noted the Tampa Tribune, “During Gov. Bush’s 2002 re-election campaign, President Bush anted up $235 million in federal money to shelter Florida’s Everglades and beaches from oil and gas drilling.
“The second half of the deal,” reported the Tribune, “was a $115 million settlement buying out nine oil and gas leases to preclude drilling in areas closest to Pensacola.” Kerry, by contrast, has done little to safeguard the Florida environment and has alarmed some environmental activist groups with his political positions.
In a 2001 Los Angeles Times column, Kerry said drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico was preferable to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
“The country does need to increase domestic oil production but, given its limited benefits, we should expand production in an environmentally sound manner–protecting the ANWR but exploring the more than 25 million undeveloped acres in the Gulf of Mexico …,” wrote Kerry on December 3, 2001.
In April 2004, Kerry confirmed his support for Gulf of Mexico drilling, telling a reporter for a Florida college newspaper that he supported deepwater drilling in the Gulf. “I thought the answer was pretty clear,” Kerry confirmed to reporters after the Florida college newspaper story broke, “that in those places where it’s been approved, I support it.”
“At least some environmentalists in Florida found Kerry’s answer disappointing,” reported the Tampa Tribune on April 24.
Kerry missed “a great opportunity to say to the people of Florida, ‘No drilling under my watch,'” Mark Ferrulo of the Florida Public Interest Research Group told the Tribune.
Ferrulo’s colleague at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Athan Manuel, had praised President Bush’s 100-mile buffer proposal. FactCheck.org, a campaign ad watchdog project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, quotes Manuel as saying Bush “turned his back on the oil industry and listened to the people of Florida.” The Annenberg site concludes the LCV ad “distorts Bush’s record on Florida drilling.”
James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].
For more information …
The April 13, 2004 article in Human Events, “Meet Teresa’s Wealthy Friends: The Heinz Foundations and the Kerry Campaign,” is available online at http://www.humaneventsonline.com/article.php?print=yes&id=3573.
The May 18, 2004 Tampa Tribune article, “Ad Attacks President’s Stance on Oil Drilling,” is available online at http://election.tbo.com/election/MGABY5TIDUD.html.
The May 18, 2004 Tallahassee Democrat article, “Conservationists’ Ad Attacks Bush’s Oil-Drilling Record,” is available online at http://www.tallahassee.com/mld/democrat/news/nation/8690848.htm.
The March 2002 Environment & Climate News article, “Bush Brothers Sign Landmark Everglades Agreement,” is available online at http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=225.
The Annenberg analysis of the LCV ad, “Environmental Group’s Ad Distorts Bush’s Record on Florida Drilling,” is available online at http://www.factcheck.org/article.aspx?docID=183.