The Obama administration admitted in newly obtained documentation that it used illegal propaganda to try to persuade the American people to adopt its views on environmental issues, according to the Washington watchdog Judicial Watch.
“The Obama EPA knowingly did an end run around federal law to push another Obama environmental power grab,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said Monday.
“These documents show how these Obama-era bureaucrats seem to be more like social activists than public employees. Let’s hope President Trump does some major housecleaning at the EPA,” Fitton said.
The organization posted online hundreds of pages it obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency in a federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Obama’s EPA moved to grab authority over waters nationwide with its Waters of the U.S. rule. The regulation essentially granted the Washington bureaucracy authority to monitor, control and protect just about any accumulation of water, including temporary rivulets from rain storms.
The 900 pages of documentation show that the EPA used the mass-sharing Thunderclap social media platform “to covertly promote its policies,” Judicial Watch said.
The problem, Judicial Watch pointed out, is that even the bureaucrats in the Obama administration decided the propaganda was illegal.
A Government Accountability Office report from late 2015, while Obama still president, said the EPA “violated publicity or propaganda and anti-lobbying provisions contained in appropriations acts with its use of certain social media platforms in association with its ‘Waters of the United States’ (WOTUS) rulemaking in fiscal years 2014 and 2015.”
“Specifically, EPA violated the publicity or propaganda prohibition though its use of a platform known as Thunderclap that allows a single message to be shared across multiple Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr accounts at the same time.”
The GAO said EPA “engaged in covert propaganda when the agency did not identify EPA’s role as the creator of the Thunderclap message to the target audience.”
“The agency’s #DitchtheMyth and #CleanWaterRules social media campaigns did not implicate the publicity or propaganda prohibition. EPA also violated anti-lobbying provisions though its hyperlinks to certain external Web pages in an EPA blog post. Both of the external Web pages led to appeals to the public to contact Congress in support of the WOTUS rule, which taken in context, constituted appeals to contact Congress in opposition to pending legislation. EPA associated itself with these messages through its decision to include the hyperlinks in its blog post.”
Judicial Watch explained that federal law prohibits agencies from engaging in propaganda, which is defined as covert activity intended to influence the American public.
“Federal law also prohibits agencies from using federal resources to conduct grassroots lobbying to prod the American public to call on Congress to act on pending legislation.”
The evidence includes an email from the EPA’s then-director of web communications, Jessica Orquina, who on Sept. 10, 2014, told Karen Wirth, an EPA team leader in the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, to think about using Thunderclap covertly.
“I don’t want it to look like EPA used our own social media accounts to reach our support goal,” Orquina wrote.
The Trump administration now is in the process of repealing Obama’s rule, which generated alarm for its vast claim to nearly every accumulation of water in the U.S.
Judicial Watch obtained the records in a FOIA lawsuit against the agency after the EPA refused to respond to an information request submitted last spring.
Travis Loop, the EPA’s director of communications for water, also in September 2014 lobbied the American Rivers program.
He wrote: “EPA is planning to use a new social media application called Thunderclap to provide a way for people to show their support for clean water and the agency’s proposal to protect it. Here’s how it works: you agree to let Thunderclap post a one-time message on your social networks (Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr) on Monday, September 29 at 2:00 pm EDT. If 500 or more people sign up to participate, the message will be posted on everyone’s walls and feeds at the same time. But if fewer than 500 sign up, nothing happens. So, it is important to both sign up and encourage others to do so.”
Judicial Watch said that in a Sept. 25, 2014, email to Jay Jensen of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), Loop noted of the Thunderclap Clean Water effort: “Right now we have 840 people who have signed up and so the message will be seen by 1.7 million people. I’m trying to make this as big as possible, so anyone that can sign up and encourage others to sign up is appreciated. I know you have lots of connections all across the board that could make this even bigger.”