Recently, the Checks and Balances Project responded to an open casting call from the American Petroleum Institute (API) to be a part of their multi-million dollar ad campaign targeting the 2012 elections.  API’s Energy Citizens campaign sent an email asking for “all ages and races to express their views in a Commercial Spot on American Made Energy!” Deputy Director Gabe Elsner answered the casting call and got an inside look at how the oil and gas industry communicates with the American public through the creation of public-facing materials. Read about our experience and listen to audio of Mr. Elsner on the set of API’s ‘Vote 4 Energy’ commercial shoot.

The Checks and Balances Project’s look behind the scenes at API’s commercial shoot was covered by the Washington Post. Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin write:

Elsner shows up as instructed with three wardrobe options, ranging from a suit to weekend wear. The API and Edelman staffers pick the suit and steam it, pick out a tie, usher him into the makeup room, then send him for the audition. One says he has “a nice, young professional’s look.” Elsner hears Edelman executive Robert McKernan say, “I think we’re done with people in suits after this.”

After being ushered onto the set, Mr. Elsner was asked to repeat a script “written by the agency” instead of “go[ing] on camera and stat[ing] [his] beliefs,” as the casting email described. The Washington Post quoted Mr. Elsner:

“They’re using deception to talk to Americans about the oil and gas industry,” he says. “These multi-million dollar campaigns are clearly being crafted to give the appearance that it’s ordinary people talking. What we experienced was that it was well scripted and totally set up to be the perfect commercial.”

Mr. Elsner’s experience was also covered by National Journal’s Influence Alley, which is a blog covering money, politics and policy, as well as CEO Update (subscription), a publication for association news and executive careers.

The Checks and Balances Project experience at API’s commercial shoot calls into question the credibility of the oil and gas industry’s other advertising that supposedly demonstrates grassroots support.  In August 2009, activists leaked the launch of API’s astroturf campaign “Energy Citizens” and uncovered that oil industry lobbyists organized most of the rallies.

It appears that API’s ‘Vote 4 Energy’ campaign is a continuation of a carefully crafted multi-million dollar public relations plan to convince the American public that ordinary people support the oil and gas industry.

The transition to clean energy is one of the most important challenges facing our nation and millions of dollars in advertising and deceitful commercials from the American Petroleum Institute is spreading misinformation and preventing the American public from having an honest debate.