Former NDP Comms Director Key Strategist on Edelman Energy East Astroturf Strategy

TransCanada

TransCanada has bought some unlikely support for the company’s public relations astroturf offensive aimed at winning support for the Energy East pipeline.

As first reported by Ricochet, Erin Jacobson, the recent director of communications for the NDP, Canada’s official opposition party, will be helping advise TransCanada on developing the astroturf campaign, bringing her expertise in Canadian public affairs and developing digital political campaigns.

As revealed in documents obtained by Greenpeace (reported Monday on DeSmogBlog), TransCanada hired Edelman, the world’s largest PR company, to create a “grassroots advocacy” campaign to help push the oilsands crude pipeline through the eastern provinces to New Brunswick.

A document prepared by Edelman for TransCanada, titled “Grassroots Advocacy Vision Document,” dated May 15, 2014, lists Jacobson as “Canadian program lead,” and explains that she “will join the Energy East team to provide Canadian-specific advocacy counsel.”

Jacobson started at the NDP in 2008, working first as a communications assistant and rising through the ranks to her position as director of communications. Immediately before leaving to work for Edelman, her title was “Deputy Director of strategic communications” in Tom Mulcair’s office.

According to Edelman’s blog, while at the NDP, Jacobson “was critical to developing the party’s national brand and identity in a period in which it grew from 36 elected Members of Parliament to 100…This appointment is the next step in Edelman’s ongoing efforts to play a bigger role in the Canadian public affairs marketplace, with a focus on political campaign style, digital public affairs advocacy.”

Supporters of the social democratic party, which is generally progressive on environmental and social issues, will likely be surprised to learn that the mind that created the NDP’s iPhone app and designed the website template used by most of the party’s members of parliament is now thinking of ways to convince Canadians that a pipeline, carrying oilsands destined primarily for export, is in their best interest. 

Examples of TransCanada's social media strategy. 

Edelman’s plan, according to the leaked documents, includes “[adding] layers of difficulty for our opponents, distracting them from their mission and causing them to redirect their resources,” and argues for developing “supportive third parties, who can in turn put the pressure on, especially when TransCanada can’t.”

The timing of Jacobson’s hire also raises some questions. The Edelman document says that Jacobson would start work on Energy East on June 1, mere weeks after she left the NDP. On June 19th, Edelman officially announced Jacobson’s hire.

Only weeks removed from her position inside Opposition leader Mulcair’s office when officially joining Edelman (and, no doubt, in close communication with the Energy East team no later than May 15th, the date of the “Grassroots Advocacy Vision Document”), Canadians are left to wonder what sort of privileged Parliamentary information could have been passed along to the Edelman and TransCanada teams. Mulcair recently re-emphasized his support for Energy East — though with rigorous environmental review and “transparent, credible process.”

According to Ricochet, current NDP Deputy Director of Strategic Communications Valérie Dufour said that Jacobson “was never involved in developing the party’s policy on energy and that she had not contacted any former colleagues on official business since her departure for Edelman.” DeSmogBlog reached out to multiple members of the NDP for comment by phone and e-mail, including the office of Mulcair, but none responded by time of publication.  

Edelman did not respond to requests for comment. 

On the Energy East project, Jacobson will be reporting to Edelman Senior Counsel Michael Krempasky, an outspoken right-wing activist with a long history of shady digital PR tactics. Krempasky was a prolific blogger at RedState.org, which he co-founded, and has been tied to many Koch-funded groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Leadership Institute. Krempasky will, according to the documents, be spending a quarter of his full-time schedule on Energy East.

Krempasky put his firm in hot water when it was revealed that he was using fake “grassroots” bloggers for a digital astroturfing campaign that he created for Walmart, a tactic for which Edelman had to apologize. Jacobson will also be working with Nate Bailey out of Edelman's DC office, a self-described “ex-flack and GOP hack,” who will be spending between one-quarter and half of his time on Energy East.