Business group ad attacking Build Back Better features unidentified fossil fuel officials

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Some of the 'West Virginia citizens' in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad thanking Sen. Joe Manchin for opposing the bill are not just constituents.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched an ad Thursday aimed at pressuring Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to oppose President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan. But while the ad appears to use ordinary West Virginians to make false attacks against the $1.75 trillion climate and caregiving package, it appears at least two of the people featured in it are officials connected to the fossil fuel industry.

The minute-long "Thank You, Joe" spot features clips of four people praising Manchin for delaying the Build Back Better plan.

"Senator Manchin, thank you for standing up for my family," says a person identified as "Maribeth" from Huntington.

"Thank you, Joe, for fighting for my business," adds "MacKenzie" from Huntington.

"Keep fighting for us, Senator. We can't afford higher taxes and more inflation," urges "Mark" from Wheeling.

"Elizabeth" from Charleston says, "Thank you, Senator, for what you do for us."

At the end, a narrator says, "Call Sen. Manchin and thank him for fighting for us and opposing bills that will raise prices for West Virginia families," while text on the screen reads "Oppose Reconciliation H.R. 5376," the Build Back Better legislation that passed the House in November.

The ad is misleading: The legislation would raise taxes on corporations and people earning more than $400,000 annually, while lowering them for millions of lower- and middle-income families. In a state with a median income of just over $46,000, the vast majority of West Virginia families would see their taxes lowered or unchanged.

An array of Nobel Prize-winning economists and financial ratings agencies say the package will not significantly spur inflation in the short term and may actually curb it in the long term — meaning lower prices, not higher ones.

In a Thursday press release, the Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business lobbying group, said the new ad "features West Virginia citizens thanking the Senator for standing up for their families, businesses, and jobs."

A Politico story published Thursday noted that the ads are part of a larger ad blitz against the bill and that the Manchin spot features West Virginia residents who were vetted by the Chamber.

But it appears that two of the four people may have another reason to oppose Biden's plan: They work for fossil fuel companies.

"Maribeth" appears to be Maribeth Anderson, who heads government relations for Antero Resources and once headed the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association. Antero describes itself as an "independent oil and natural gas company" and operates both in Colorado and in West Virginia.

"Mackenzie" appears to be MacKenzie Morley, marketing director for CJ Hughes. According to its website, CJ Hughes was founded as a "drilling contractor for the gas and petroleum industries" and now does construction for the "water, sanitary, natural gas and petroleum industries."

The American Independent Foundation reached out to Anderson, Morley, and the Chamber of Commerce for comment for this story; none immediately responded.

The ad participants' affiliations are relevant, given that the Build Back Better plan includes a historic $555 billion investment in clean energy and climate change infrastructure and higher taxes on the oil and gas sector. The fossil fuel industry has strongly opposed the plan.

The new West Virginia ads are part of a broader effort by the Chamber and its political arm to defeat the Build Back Better plan. So far, the campaign has included misleading ads aimed at moderate Democratic senators.

Manchin and the Biden administration say they are still negotiating on a Senate version of the bill, though passage appears unlikely before the end of the year.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.