Dark money group funded by oil and gas industry falsely blames Democrats for gas prices

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The American Action Network makes no mention of its fossil fuel donors in a barrage of attack ads against Democratic House incumbents.

The dark money group American Action Network has launched a multimillion dollar ad campaign against vulnerable House Democrats, dishonestly blaming them for gasoline prices. The ads make no mention of the group's history of accepting oil and gas industry money.

According to a press release on Wednesday, the tax-exempt 501(c)(4) group is spending $2 million on ads against five Democratic incumbents seeking reelection in toss-up districts this November.

The ads against Reps. Marcy Kaptur (OH), Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas (NH), and Frank Mrvan (IN) claim that each is to blame for gasoline prices because they stand with President Joe Biden in opposing unlimited oil and gas drilling.

"This summer the signs are all around us. It was their plan all along," claims the ad against the two New Hampshire representatives, before a clip is shown of President Joe Biden in mid-sentence saying, "... no ability for the oil industry to continue to drill. Period."

The spot urges people to call Kuster and Pappas to tell them to "unleash American energy" and "lower prices."

This out-of-context partial quote comes from a March 2020 Democratic debate, at which Biden said that he would oppose offshore drilling and new drilling leases on public lands.

"Number one, no more subsidies for fossil fuel industry. No more drilling on federal lands. No more drilling, including offshore. No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period, ends, number one," he said. CNN has previously debunked claims that that statement indicated a desire to shut down all drilling.

Another new spot by the group attacks Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) with the same misleading partial Biden quote. It claims, "Now gas costs $5 a gallon ... but Dina Titus wanted it to cost more," before playing clip of her saying, "Well, you've got to raise the gas tax."

Titus made the comment in a Feb. 21, 2020, podcast interview as part of a discussion about how to address infrastructure challenges facing the Highway Trust Fund, a federal gas tax-funded source of money for highway construction and mass transit. At the time, gasoline cost less than $2.50 a gallon on average.

She has since signed on a co-sponsor of a bill to temporarily suspend the federal gas tax entirely given the current national price spike.

Though the group blames current prices on the lack of domestic drilling under Biden, experts agree that this is not a major factor.

The cost of gasoline began to rise under former President Donald Trump in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic reduced supply and the reopening of the economy boosted demand. It then went up much more this year following Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Congress' nearly unanimous decision to suspend Russian oil and gas imports in response.

Democratic lawmakers and consumer groups have also blamed some of the increase on price gouging and greed on the part of oil and gas companies.

The American Action Network was founded in 2010 and is chaired by former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN). It has spent millions of dollars in dark money on attacking Democrats, supporting Republicans, and opposing fossil fuel regulations.

While it does not disclose its donors, in the ads or elsewhere, public records show that American Action Network and its affiliated American Action Forum think tank have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the American Petroleum Institute, the trade group for the oil and gas industry, and tens of thousands more from the American Natural Gas Alliance.

A spokesperson for the American Action Network did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.