Ethanol Group Changes Approach to Lobby the Public

Outgunned in Washington by the oil industry's big money, ethanol trade group Growth Energy is trying a different tack: a national ad campaign aimed at swaying public sentiment.

Growth Energy may not have the big operating budget of the organizations that represent the oil industry, but the ethanol trade group does have Mr. Slick & Dummy.

The characters are the stars of a nationwide ad campaign the group hopes will help the industry’s message gain momentum and credibility with the public. More details:

About the campaign: Last month, Growth Energy started airing television ads across the country—particularly in ethanol strongholds like Iowa as well as on cable news networks like CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. The effort is countering what the trade group characterizes as an oil industry narrative “trying to stop the growth of clean, green renewable fuels to protect their own bottom lines.” To go along with the TV ad,  Growth Energy launched a website defending the Renewable Fuel Standard—the Environmental Protection Agency’s program mandating the amount of renewable fuels that must be used in gasoline each year.

Why this approach? Growth Energy, which represents dozens of ethanol producers nationwide, hopes it can use the campaign to change the narrative more effectively than it might be able to do through lobbying. “The attacks in Washington have become more intense,” said CEO Tom Buis during a press conference launching the ad campaign. “This is a fight about market share, nothing more, nothing less. We know we have the facts on our side.” Growth Energy cochairman Wesley Clark, the retired Army general who served as the head of NATO’s Allied Forces in Europe and later ran for president, suggested the industry deserved “an opportunity to sell to the American motorist.”

Not quite David vs. Goliath, but … While the ethanol industry’s trade presence is smaller than the oil industry’s, it’s by no means small. The website, run by the watchdog Center for Responsive Politics, shows the ethanol industry has spent $640,000 on lobbying efforts so far in 2013—a decent number, but the American Petroleum Institute’s dwarfs it. The oil industry trade group has already spent more than $4.1 million this year. (The groups were closer in terms of campaign contributions in 2012: The oil PAC donated $199,000 to federal candidates in the 2012 cycle, while Growth Energy’s gave $130,500.) The ethanol group hopes to bridge the spending gap by appealing not to the politicians, but directly to the people who elect them.

The conflict’s dynamic: This is only the latest front in an ongoing battle over ethanol. While other ethanol groups, such as the Renewable Fuels Association, have been pushing for adoption of the higher-blend E15 (15 percent ethanol) standard, API argues that the mandate would raise costs across the industry and ultimately at the gas pump. API recently petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the EPA’s mandate on using E15, but the court refused to take up the case.

Would you consider advertising as a solid alternative to lobbying for your organization? Let us know your take in the comments.

( screenshot)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!