An oil and gas industry association has filed an ethics complaint against a celebrity-backed fracking group, arguing that the group is violating New York lobbying laws by failing to register as a lobbying organization.
Artists Against Fracking, an organization run by Yoko Ono, has been calling on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to support a state ban on fracking through full-page New York Times ads and billboards. The Associated Press recently reported that the group and its long list of celebrity representatives have not registered to lobby in the state.
Organizations that spend more than $5,000 per year advocating for state legislation are required to register as lobbying groups under New York law.
The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York filed a complaint last Tuesday with New York’s public ethics commission, saying it was concerned with Artists Against Fracking’s lack of transparency. The group would be required to disclose its spending if it is required to register as a lobbyist.
"I am concerned that the public has been unable to learn how much money is being spent on this effort, what it is being spent on, and who is funding this effort," wrote Brad R. Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York.
"I understand the power of celebrity that this organization has brought to the public discussion over natural gas development, but I do not understand why this organization is not being required to follow the state’s lobbying laws."
Gill called on the commission to "commence an investigation of Artists Against Fracking and its lobbying activities as soon as possible so that the public can get access to the information that it is entitled to."
Celebrities involved in Artists Against Fracking include Lady Gaga, Martha Stewart, and Salman Rushdie.
A spokesman for Artists Against Fracking did not return calls seeking comment. But a publicist for the group told the Associated Press that it would fight efforts to force it to register.
"As private citizens, Yoko and Sean [Lennon] are not required to register as lobbyists when they use their own money to express an opinion and there's also no lobbying requirement when you are engaged in a public comment period by a state agency," spokesman David Fenton told the AP.
Fenton has a history of representing controversial environmental causes.
He has represented environmentalist groups such as Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and was behind a 1989 campaign linking the pesticide Alar to cancer, which turned out to be exaggerated.
Fenton was also part of an anti-Israel email listserv that attacked opponents of Chuck Hagel’s defense secretary nomination, as the Washington Free Beacon previously reported.
A representative for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York said it has not received a response from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics yet, and said it would wait until next week before following up.