Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.
It's got pictures of kids and families. People of all colors. Gentle hands cradling our fragile planet. A hard hat resting on a pair of worn work gloves and a hammer. It says the coalition is "people like you." It bears an uncanny resemblance to the website of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families campaign, of which EDF is a founding member. But dig deeper and you'll discover that the website of the "Coalition for Chemical Safety" is actually created and run by industry.
It actually takes quite a bit of digging to ferret out who's behind this group. Click on "About Us" and you'll be told the coalition is "a non-profit social welfare organization." Click on "Contact Us" and you'll get only a nondescript form to fill out to have more information sent to your email address.
Nowhere does the website reveal who runs or is behind it. But clues begin to emerge when you are invited to "Click here to make your business the latest member of the Coalition for Chemical Safety," and when you find that, to do so, you must check a box to avow "I agree to support balanced chemical safety reform that protects public health, innovation, and economic growth" and to identify yourself as "an advocate supporting reasonable reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)." (emphases added)
A clickable map suggests there are coalition chapters in 13 states, although only eight of them list any members. But the members are hardly the promised "people like you." Heading the list is the Chemical Industry Council of California. While the list of members is quite a hodge-podge, others include the Louisiana Propane Gas Association, the Montana Agribusiness Association and the Virginia Biotechnology Association.
[10/27 UPDATE: I see that, apparently in response to my post and to my comment below, at least a couple of changes have been made to the coalition's website. First, the "Click here" statement I described above has been changed to remove the reference to "business." It now reads: "Click here to become the latest member of the Coalition for Chemical Safety."
Second, a new link on the map has been added for Washington, DC, which now lists the American Chemistry Council as a coalition member.
Still no indication anywhere on the website as to what company or organization is behind or running the coalition, although a Mr. Joe Householder has come forward and identified himself as its Executive Director, via comments on this post (see below) and at the bottom of the "Contact Us" webpage.]
By searching for who registered the domain name of the coalition's website, we have learned that the website is developed and run by DDC Advocacy, one of several arms of The DDC Companies (short for Democracy Data & Communications, LLC). The companies "provide comprehensive public affairs services for corporate, trade association, and non-profit clients," specializing in so-called "issues management" – industry-speak for product and corporate reputation defense and protection.
You can read more about DDC Advocacy and its parent, the Alfred Street Partners, at SourceWatch. DDC Advocacy boasts having nine of the Fortune 10 among its clients. DDC Advocacy's CEO is B.R. McConnon III, who also serves as a key spokesperson for the National Federation of Independent Business and is a former analyst at the anti-regulatory think tank, Citizens for a Sound Economy. Its Senior Vice President of Strategic Development is Julie Cram, former Director of Public Affairs for Burson-Marsteller.
Now, far be it from me to suggest industry isn't a key stakeholder in the debate over TSCA reform, or that it doesn't have a right to organize and advocate for its views.
But surely it can do all of that without wrapping itself in a "people like you" cloak of deception!
All this leaves me with two questions:
First, who is paying DDC Advocacy to set up and run the website and organize the coalition?
And second, why are they so afraid of showing themselves?
Real engagement demands transparency. A good first step would be for the company or organization that started the new coalition to step out from behind the curtain and identify itself.
Below is the list of companies and organizations identified as members of the Coalition for Chemical Safety, current as of October 25, 2009.
Chemical Industry Council of California
Gallade Chemical Inc.
Ross Organic Specialty Inc.
Chemical Industry Council of Illinois
C.M. Hobbs, Inc.
Dorfman Design Builders
Louisiana Propane Gas Association
Eastern Scientific, Inc.
Maryland Biotechnology Entrepreneurs Coalition
Marlin Steel Wire
Systems Consulting Group
Medical Supplies Corporation
Regional Manufacturing Institute
Denny C’s Produce
G&G Property Maintenance
Montana Agribusiness Association
Montana Contractors Association
United Property Owners of Montana
Virginia Retail Merchant Association
Virginia State Police Association
Virginia Biotechnology Association