American Petroleum Institute

The American Petroleum Institute (API) spent more on independent contractors than any other trade organization in our analysis. Between 2008 and 2019, API spent over $750 million on public relations, advertising, and communications.

API was one of the first trade associations to orchestrate behind-the-scenes climate change denial campaigns.  As early as the 1950’s and 1960’s, API worked to downplay the threat of smog to human health in Los Angeles by hiring their own scientists that would disparage leading smog control scientists, while promoting the idea that pollution controls would be too costly.

A recent three-part exposé by the Center for Public Integrity gives a comprehensive history of API, including their involvement on the issue of climate change.

Climate Denial

In 1998, API was revealed to be organizing and funding a Global Climate Science Communications Plan, with participation by representatives from Exxon, Chevron, Southern Company and a fleet of free market and anti-regulation think tanks also funded by corporations. This plan was leaked and exposed on the front page of the New York Times.

In 2015, it was revealed that API, along with ExxonMobil, the Charles Koch Foundation, and Southern Company, were funding the research of scientist Willie Soon, who is one of the best examples of a climate denial surrogate — funded by fossil fuel companies to put forward contrarian positions the companies could not credibly voice and know don’t hold water.


API is also infamous for their use of astroturf front groups, to create popular support meant to resemble a true grassroots movement in favor of the oil industry.  These campaigns are undoubtedly created with the help of PR companies.

In 2009, on such effort, the Energy Citizens campaign was revealed in a leaked email written by Jack Girard, head of API, to oil company executives.

Energy Citizens promotes itself as a grassroots collective of citizens worried about energy security in the United States; in reality, Energy Citizens only works to promote legislation that would benefit the oil and gas industry and stop legislation that the oil industry deems harmful.

Energy Citizens spawned Vote4Energy in January 2012 a new initiative aimed at the 2012 elections. Greenpeace researchers discovered Vote4Energy before it was launched and spoofed the campaign with a website and a YouTube video.

Vote4Energy advertisement from API’s YouTube Channel: “We can produce the energy America needs and protect the environment – it doesn’t have to be either/or. There’s already been a lot of progress.”

Recent CIC research revealed that many Energy Citizens websites and petition pages are hosted by the PR firm DDC Advocacy (Democracy Data & Communications). Websites such as and are websites designed to look like they are run by concerned citizens, but are actually a part of API’s ongoing, multi-million dollar front-group Energy Citizens campaign.

Edelman and Blue Advertising Contracts

API paid the PR firm Edelman $327.4 million from 2008* to 2012, with a peak of $75 million dollars in 2008. Edelman stopped appearing as an independent contractor on API’s 990 from 2012 onward.

In 2013, Edelman was replaced on the API tax form with Blue Advertising, a subsidiary of Edelman at the time. It is unclear why this switch in the named contractor was made. In 2014, after media coverage of CIC’s first climate survey of PR companies, Edelman claimed they were going to stop working for climate change deniers and the contract with API was canceled and Blue Advertising “divested” from Edelman, becoming an independent firm and continuing its work with API.

Blue Advertising has garnered $112.4 million in API advertising contracts since they were first included on API’s 2013 990.  On Blue’s website, numerous awards are listed for advertising work done for API, dating back to 2008 confirming that Blue and Edelman were one and the same for many years.  

MarCom, Gold Award, 2017 – API 'The Power Of' Digital Advertisement
Communicator, Award of Distinction, 2014 – API, Education Campaign
MarCom, Platinum Award, 2014 – API 'Connect' TV Spot
Telly Bronze Award, 2014 – API, Education Campaign
Communicator, Award of Excellence, 2012 – API, 'I’m One' Campaign
SABRE, Silver, Excellence in Advertising, 2012 – API, 'I’m One' Campaign
Telly, Promotional/Branding, 2012 – API, Energy Literacy Campaign
Telly, Promotional/Branding, 2010 – API, Education Campaign
Communicator, Award of Distinction, 2009 – API, Energy Literacy Campaign
Telly, Corporate Image, 2009 – API, 'Blue Sky' TV
Telly, Corporate Image, 2009 – API, 'Value' TV
Telly, Promotional/Branding, 2009 – API, Energy Literacy Campaign
Communicator, Award of Distinction, 2008 – API, 'Introducing ULSD' Campaign

Total: $439.8 million ($327.4 million to Edelman and $112.4 million to Blue Advertising)

FleishmanHillard Contracts

FleishmanHillard has received $96.6 million from API since 2011.

Total: $96.6 million

Democracy Data & Communications Contracts

Democracy Data & Communications (DDC) has received $43.2 million from API since 2011. DDC has been responsible for hosting many of the website for API front group Energy Citizens.

Total: $43.2 million

API 990s: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

* Reporting of these contracts was not required before 2008. There were likely earlier contracts with Edelman.

Read more about API at Sourcewatch

Read more about API at DeSmog

Return to Trade Association PR spending main page.

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