A pair of "research" accounts at the University of Calgary, funded mainly by the oil and gas industry, were used for a sophisticated international political campaign that involved high-priced consultants, lobbying, wining, dining and travel with the goal of casting doubt on climate change science, newly released accounting records have revealed.
The records showed that the strategy was crafted by professional firms, in collaboration with well-known climate change skeptics in Canada and abroad, allowing donors to earn tax receipts by channelling their money through the university.
All of the activities and $507,975 in spending were organized by the Friends of Science, an anti-Kyoto Protocol group founded by retired oil industry workers and academics who are skeptical about peer-reviewed research linking human activity to global warming observed in recent decades.
"Shouldn't the science of climate change be on the agenda for [the UN climate conference]?" asked a pair of ads that appeared in the Montreal Gazette on Nov. 28 and Nov 29, 2005, inviting the public to a Friends of Science threeday event outside of the first international meeting of parties to the Kyoto Protocol, where climate skeptics proceeded to attack Liberal government environmental policies at the start of a federal election campaign.
The two ads - worth $2,070 - and about $4,000 in travel costs to the event in Montreal for an Alberta-based communications consultant (earning $100 an hour) and an academic, were purchased through accounts set up in the fall of 2004 following a request by University of Calgary political science professor Barry Cooper, according to the records, released to Postmedia News by the university under orders from Frank Work, the information and privacy commissioner of Alberta.
"I don't know about [whether we were there] to disrupt the conference. We were there to present our views," said Douglas Leahey, president of the Friends of Science up until June 2011.
"We think that the conference should have presented both views, not just one of a propaganda exercise ... This was part of our research activities to find out what the other side was doing and how we were interacting with them."
Cooper was proposing to produce a DVD that would analyze debates about climate change science and policies in partnership with the Friends of Science, with a $175,000 donation from Talisman Energy, an Alberta-based oil and gas company, to kick-start their efforts.
Cooper declined to comment on "explicit details," but said that all money was used to produce the DVD and "publicize its existence."
"There was a debate going on at the time about (whether humans were causing global warming) and it was not being discussed outside a tiny cadre of climatologists," Cooper said in an email.
"Happily, that is no longer the case. Moreover, I viewed this issue and I still view this issue as a public policy matter more than a scientific one. How else would a political scientist be expected to view such matters?"
The project recruited APCO Worldwide, a public relations firm that produced a detailed budget and "strategic" communications plan, to coordinate "letters from experts" in support of the video, obtain media coverage in Canada, the U.S. and possibly Europe, and publish opinion pieces in mainstream newspapers to promote the product.
The university paid nearly $250,000 to APCO Worldwide, Morten Paulsen Consulting and Fleishman-Hillard Canada, where Paulsen also worked as a senior vice-president, before shutting down the accounts in 2007 after an audit that determined some activities were political in nature.
The university initially declined to release detailed invoices and records following a 2008 request under provincial freedom of information legislation and told the commissioner's office during a recent inquiry that releasing the details was not in the public interest.
The university has also billed Postmedia News $415 for processing the request for information, arguing that waiving the fees in their entirety was also "not in the public interest."