I hate buying gasoline. When I must, I try to stop at Valero because I’ve arrived at the foggy conclusion that much of their oil comes from South America. Better than Exxon, Shell or Texaco, I tell myself. Better to buy crude from Chavez than the Saudis. (Which is actually incorrect — it’s Citgo that is owned by Venezuela, but perception is everything in the market and mine was wrong.)
That’s when I saw this …
The image above was snapped (“from my iPhone”) Saturday night at a Valero station in Austin, Texas. Take a closer look at the text …
“IF CONGRESS PASSES CAP & TRADE LEGISLATION, YOU WILL PAY THE PRICE. ‘CAP AND TRADE’ WILL COST YOU 77¢ OR MORE A GALLON”
The first items to jump out at me about this particular piece of corporate activism is how utterly brazen they are in claiming that I will be forced to pay for their refusal to take responsible steps toward protecting my environment. This sentiment penetrates the very heart of our plutocracy: If companies are held responsible for their transgressions, the costs will simply be passed on to the consumers.
The victim is to blame. Fuck the Doomed.
I sat at the pump for a moment, incredulous. Turning to my passenger, I said something along the lines of: “What the fucking shit is this fucking shit? Holy God almighty, corporate political activism on a consumer level? Of course, that is their right. But it’s also my right to call bullshit and make a stink about it.”
My first inclination was to reach up and rip the sign down. But then I realized, this is private property. I’m on camera. Perhaps that is not a good idea.
I immediately thought of a friend in Dallas who was once put in handcuffs for leaving a hand-made protest sign on public property. She was not arrested, but the cops certainly wanted to make a point. A ticket for “vandalism” was eventually issued, with a stern warning that she could have gone to jail for the night.
“How fucking dare they?” I said to my friend Mike, standing next to me at the pump. “This is Austin goddamn Texas. Don’t they know who they’re insulting here?”
I resolved then and there to find out who “they” are.
The company running this particular ad (and, I’m assuming, many others like it in more than just my market) is called Democracy Data & Communications LLC. The Web site advertised is hosted on capitolconnect.com as a subdomain. That Web site is managed by DDC. A couple quick searches and it became clear: this is a big player in the astroturf community.
For the sake of brevity I’ll spare the lecture. You can read more about DDC here, here and here. They are a big business advocate with ties to the Chamber of Commerce and the Republican party. It should not come as a surprise that they are propagandizing at the pump. I am actually more surprised this was not done sooner.
The president of Business Roundtable, which The Washington Post cited as “an organization of chief executives from 160 large companies,” called DDC’s methods “the future of lobbying” in 2005 — which says to me, expect lots more of this.
Disgusting, is it not?
I agreed with that rhetorical for a good 18 hours before I realized what it really means. The future of lobbying … Is you. Your ignorance or mental fortitude, your opinions and consumer choices are the future of lobbying. If they now believe it is necessary to come to your level, at a place where thousands of you stop as a necessity, then it is in part a victory. They are being forced to crowdsource their propaganda operations, expanding them far above and beyond Congress alone.
I take additional comfort in the knowledge that there are not many big political campaigns happening right now. It’s not as if they are running a media hit job on a senator one week before the vote. They are advertising against legislation that has been months pending — and they are advertising to you.
Of course, it’s impossible to examine the accuracy of such a prediction. Seventy-seven cents? At least? Really? I wonder what equation was used to come up with that figure. Shouldn’t there be an asterisk or some fine print on that ad? Maybe something like, *this number may or may not be complete bullshit, or *according to the Ministry of Fuzzy Math.
What’s more, it made me think that cap & trade — a system which would tax and limit carbon emissions by the largest polluters — may actually be effective. The simple, desperate act of whatever firm this is, hiring DDC to propagandize against cap & trade makes me think, with very little background on the details of such a system, that it could actually work.
Astroturfers and PR flacs everywhere, take note: My demographic, which is savvy, large and growing, almost always infers the opposite of what corporate culture tells us.
So go ahead, Valero. Charge me an extra 77¢ per gallon. You will just encourage me to get off gasoline and into a plug-in electric vehicle. You will just make me lobby my local leaders that much more for expanded public transportation. You are, ultimately, aiding the goal of that which you so protest.
Considering the gas I bought was just $2.50 per gallon, I’ve got to admit — DDC’s Threat certainly sounds much better than reliving the hardship visited upon us by their clientele during the Bush administration.
Interesting then, that a DDC-owned domain name server range once hosted voteforgeorgewbush.com. You remember, back in 2004, when he was running on “building a safer world and a more hopeful[er] America.” We all know how well that turned out. Got to love the slogans.
So congratulations, Democracy Data & Communications. You have just created an advocate of cap & trade. I hope your employers take note.