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Scott Walker and Ted Kaczynski in the Heartland

Wednesday, 13 June 2012 14:05 By Will Dooling and Brendan Fischer, PR Watch | Report
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Now that he has survived a historic recall battle, what is next on Governor Scott Walker's agenda?

On August 9 of this year, Walker will be the keynote speaker at a benefit dinner for the Illinois-based Heartland Institute, a group that has recently come under fire for a billboard campaign linking those concerned about global warming to "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski, serial killer Charles Manson, and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

Heartland, a longtime member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has made climate change denial an increasingly large part of its policy platform over the last decade.

Climate Change Called "Fringe" Belief Shared by "Murderers, Tyrants, and Madmen"

Heartland Institute billboardThe billboards, intended to promote Heartland's annual climate change denial conference held in Chicago, created an uproar. The group lost nearly half of its corporate funding (around $1.14 million) as corporate donors like State Farm, Diageo, Verizon, and others announced they would no longer support the organization.

Heartland's Washington, D.C. branch, which focuses on insurance and real estate issues, also defected from its Illinois-based parent company after the controversy.

The billboards were not an unauthorized PR stunt or the work of an overzealous employee. Heartland proudly displayed the campaign on the front page of its website and issued a lengthy press release explaining:

"The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen."

Between 97 and 98 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and caused by human behavior.

Heartland Billboards Feature Unabomber Ted Kaczynski

The first billboard featured Unabomber Ted Kaczynski as the posterboy for its campaign because, Heartland claimed, his "manifesto expressed his belief in catastrophic man-caused global warming." The words "climate change" never appeared in his manifesto, but Heartland spokesman Jim Lakely points to a passage that says the Industrial Revolution has "inflicted severe damage on the natural world" as justification for the ads.

Under pressure from Wisconsin Congressman (and climate change denier) Jim Sensenbrenner and others, Heartland pulled the billboard but then published a statement saying, "We do not apologize for running the ad."

Heartland's tactics were so egregious that even some climate change skeptics sought to distance themselves from the organization.

Speakers Cancel Appearances at Heartland

Ross McKitrick, a Canadian economist, was scheduled to speak at the conference but cancelled, sending Heartland a letter saying, "You cannot simultaneously say that you want to promote a debate while equating the other side to terrorists and mass murderers."

Donna Laframboise, author of a recent book attacking the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change, was also scheduled to speak at the conference, but cancelled, explaining that, "Suddenly, we were all publicly linked to an organization that thinks it's OK to equate people concerned about climate change with psychopaths ... being collateral damage in someone else's ongoing marketing experiments isn't my idea of a good time."

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, though, apparently does not share their reservations. He is scheduled to speak at Heartland's "emerging issues" benefit dinner on August 9.

According to documents leaked last February, Heartland planned to support Walker and four GOP Senators in their recall elections with a $612,000 campaign to include print ads, mailers, websites, and blog posts attacking teachers as overpaid and discrediting Wisconsin schools. It does not appear that the campaign was implemented (at least not in Heartland's name). Additionally, though Walker has not made climate change denial a key part of his platform, evidence suggests that he may share the Heartland Institute's refusal to believe the science about global warming. (Additionally, the Heartland Institute received $905,000 in funding between 2001 and 2010 from the Bradley Foundation, which is headed by Michael Grebe, who chaired Walker's campaign and led his transition team.)

Some Speakers are Unconcerned

By speaking at the August 9 fundraiser for Heartland, Walker is putting himself in a category with a unique class of characters. Many of those who continued to associate with Heartland after the billboard controversy appear to be fringe players.

Speakers who did not cancel their appearances at Heartland's 2012 conference included Czech president Vaclav Klaus, who believes that global warming science is a communist conspiracy, and Lord Christopher Monckton, a former policy advisor to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who has compared climate change believers to "Hitler youth" and fascists. He acknowledged in his speech that he "has no scientific qualification" to challenge climate change science (and went on to question climate change science), then veered from an attack on environmentalists into a birther screed challenging whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States.

Heartland Hoisted With Its Own Petard

Heartland first gained recognition for being one of the organizations to hype the "climategate" emails leaked in 2009 from the University of East Anglia's Climate Change Research Unit, alleging that a handful of emails showing climate scientists mocking denialists was proof of a massive conspiracy to manufacture evidence of man-made climate change. "The entire movement stands discredited," they claimed of the "scandal." Closer scrutiny revealed that significant portions of the email exchanges were taken out of context, and multiple independent inquiries found no evidence that scientists had falsified, manipulated, or destroyed data, as Heartland and others had claimed.

Despite Heartland having raised its profile by publishing the leaked "climategate" emails in 2009, when the tables were turned and Heartland's documents were leaked in 2012 to climate scientist Peter Gleick, Heartland threatened legal action against bloggers and environmental groups that published the documents. The organization's apparent hypocrisy was mocked by the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Heartland is also closely associated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and its representatives sit on the Communications and Technology Task Force, the Education Task Force, the Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force, and its Financial Services Subcommittee, and the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force. Heartland has promoted a variety of "model bills" through ALEC, such as the Parent Trigger Act that allows parents to privatize their public schools. ALEC, like Heartland, opposes efforts to respond to climate change, and even presented a panel titled "Warming Up to Climate Change" at its 2011 Annual Meeting.

Walker May be the Institute's Last Hope

Because it lost so much funding over the billboard controversy, Heartland President Joe Bast declared that the group will not hold another climate change conference and can barely afford to pay its staff. Given Walker's Tea Party rockstar status and his recent recall victory, the Wisconsin governor's presence at Heartland's 28th annual fundraiser may be the institute's best hope for renewal.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Brendan Fischer

Brendan Fischer is the Center for Media and Democracy's law fellow and a returned Peace Corps Volunteer - El Salvador.

Will Dooling

William Dooling is a graduate student at the University of Madison-Wisconsin. He is studying to become a professional researcher and creative writer. Prior to his job at the Center for Media and Democracy, he taught Science, American History, and English in Taiwan.


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