Calgary-based TransCanada Corporation allied itself with so-called “dark-money” front groups to mainline cash to American legislators prepared to push its Keystone XL pipeline project through the U.S. Midwest, an investigation by CBC’s Fifth Estate has revealed.
“For years,” the public broadcaster’s investigative unit reports, the Canadian pipeline giant “spent millions influencing local state legislatures and Indigenous communities and allying itself with ‘dark money’ groups that helped sway U.S. public opinion around the Keystone XL pipeline and ultimately install a new oil-friendly administration in Washington.”
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In one example of how TransCanada’s investment in pay-to-play American politics paid off, the outlet cites a 2015 report from Common Cause Nebraska which found that in one recent season, “TransCanada dwarfed all other political spending by special interest groups in the state, dropping more than US$500,000 lobbying state senators.”
Not all of TransCanada’s cash went to politicians, according to the broadcaster. A lot was given to industry-backed “grassroots” groups in Nebraska to buy pro-pipeline advertising and media campaigns. “They would start to blanket the airwaves with ads and with mailers and with robocalls calling our side extremists, tree huggers, and hypocrites,” said Bold Nebraska’s Jane Kleeb.
“And the Nebraska legislature delivered,” CBC writes, “putting the fate of the pipeline in the hands of the [pro-pipeline] governor,” who had also received TransCanada donations (he returned them when the contributions were reported in the state).
Foreign companies aren’t allowed to lobby U.S. politicians. TransCanada apparently skirted that prohibition by flowing its donations through a U.S.-registered subsidiary and independent pressure groups exempt from American political finance disclosure laws. “They essentially do the dirty work of TransCanada,” said Kleeb.
The Fifth Estate said TransCanada had declined its request for an interview, “or to answer any questions in writing.”
The Obama administration in the United States denied TransCanada a permit for its proposed pipeline to increase the flow of diluted Canadian tar sands/oil sands bitumen to American Gulf of Mexico ports. The Trump administration reversed that decision, and TransCanada has revived its proposal.
However a lack of investor or customer interest has the company putting pressure on the Alberta government to commit its taxpayers to a “take or pay” contract for some of the completed pipeline’s capacity. Such an agreement would require the public to line up customers to use the pipeline, and to pay the company regardless of whether any bitumen actually took up the capacity the government had committed to take. (TransCanada claimed it had “received adequate support from crude oil shippers on its long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, but the parties still need to work out specific terms,” Reuters reported yesterday, as The Energy Mix was going to virtual press.)