Elmendorf Strategies and the Carbon Lobby

Lobbyists will often argue that a major reason clients hire them is because of their deep personal connections with decision makers.

Steve Elmendorf, who founded Elmendorf Strategies in 2007, was an adviser to various Democratic Party campaigns and politicians for over 25 years. So his connections with Democratic Party movers and shakers seem beyond dispute.

Over the last year Elmendorf and several of his colleagues have been lobbying on climate change issues for the giant U.S. power utility, Ameren, and the Shell oil company. Neither company is mentioned in the limited client list on the firm's website. In 2008 and early 2009, Ameren paid Elmendorf Strategies $120,000 to lobby on "energy issues, global warming and greenhouse gas legislation, energy taxes."

At the end of April, Ameren terminated its use of Elmendorf Strategies. However, the utility company is still spending big on a number of other lobbying firms, including Ogilvy Government Relations, the Gephardt Group Government Affairs, Bryan Cave LLP, Barnes & Thornburg, Bracewell and Giuliani and its own in-house services arm, Ameren Services. All told, including the $30,000 paid to Elmendorf Strategies in the first quarter of 2009, the utility spent a whopping $2.36 million on lobbying the federal legislature in the first six months of 2009 alone. That's over ten times the amount that the Sierra Club spent in the same period.

Why does Ameren need so many high-powered lobbyists? The company has a fleet of 31 aging coal-fired power stations which, based on 2005 data, emitted 1.2% of all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

In 2008, Elmendorf Strategies also earned $280,000 from Shell Oil for their lobbying assistance, including on "global warming/greenhouse gas emissions" and "oil sands" issues. (Unfortunately for Elmendorf, Shell Oil decided to dispense with the lobbying firm's services at the end of January 2009.)

While Elmendorf Strategies has lost two clients seeking to limit proposed cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, it has subsequently picked up work from the American Wind Energy Association. The association has paid the lobbying firm $120,000 on issues such as tax credits for wind power and the "provisions regarding the Renewable Portfolio Standard," which sets renewable energy targets.

Elmendorf Strategies' rise and fall as a lobbyist of choice for Ameren and Shell is just one tiny aspect of the climate change lobbying blitz now underway.

The Center for Public Integrity, a U.S.-based non-profit investigative journalism group, has documented 880 companies and groups trying influence the climate legislation before Congress. "Manufacturers, power companies, and the oil and gas industry" accounted for more than half of the lobbyists actively trying to shape draft global warming legislation, reported the Center's Marianne Lavelle.

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There's no question that U.S. policymakers debating how to respond to one of the most pressing issues of our time are hearing from vested interests. Ferreting out those interests helps keep their influence in check.

Bob Burton is the Managing Editor of SourceWatch.