North Dakota Group Engaging In Environmental Astroturf With Anti-Oil Development Petition

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“A petition with 10,000 signatures asking for Theodore Roosevelt National Park to be protected from oil development was delivered to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell earlier this week,” reports Lauren Donovan of the Bismarck Tribune. “The online petition was sponsored by the Dakota Resource Council and includes signatures from people in every state, said council chairwoman Linda Weiss.”

According to the report, the petition had over 10,000 signatures on it, which is impressive. But I’m a little skeptical, because the Dakota Resource Council has a pretty bad reputation for being a bit of an astroturf group, casting itself as representative of a broad constituency in North Dakota while actually getting most of its support from somewhere else.

Case in point, according to the 2011 Form 990 from the Dakota Resource Council, the organization got 64% of its financing from government grants. This didn’t just happen in 2011 either. I can’t find the 2010 form, but in 2009 the group got $298,950 (over 86% of their total) from the government, and in 2008 the group got $413,748 from the government which was 98% of their total revenue.

And their petition seems to be something less than transparent.

It was hosted on Change.org (you can see it here) and there’s no really good way to verify that the signatures are all valid and not spam, and that the total signature count is accurate. In fact, there’s no easy way to even see all the signatures.

But I was interested in seeing how many of the more than 10,000 signatures (10,270 as of the time of this posting) were actually from North Dakotans.

I printed out a sample of 141 of the signatures posted on the Change.org page. Of those 141 signatures, just 6 were from North Dakota, or less than 5%.

Assuming the rate fo North Dakota signatures from that sample for all the signatures, we can extrapolate that about 437 actual North Dakotans signed the petition.

This is just a rough calculation based on the small amount of data available about the petition online, but you’d think it would behoove reporters picking up news of this petition fo find out how valid the signatures are, and how representative those signatures are of North Dakota opinions. Whatever your position is on oil development in or near Theodore Roosevelt National Park, shouldn’t we have an accurate picture of a petition submitted by an activist group to influence that debate?

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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