Environmental Group Uses Google Grants to Target Iowa Voters

ClickZ_Campaign08_katefinal.jpgThe Environmental Law and Policy Center gets up to $10,000 worth of Google ads provided free of charge each month to help promote its green efforts, including one aimed at reaching Iowa caucus voters. A search for “Hillary Clinton” turns up an ad suggesting that users “Learn how Hillary Clinton proposes to solve global warming.” Targeted to presidential candidate names, the ads link to IowaGlobalWarming.org, and are part of a year-long campaign set to finalize after January’s Iowa caucuses.

The Midwestern advocacy group also uses the ads, provided through Google’s Grants program for nonprofits, to promote sites affiliated with separate heartland-related environmental efforts, such as FarmEnergy.org.

The goal of the Iowa Global Warming project is to get presidential primary candidates talking about climate change while campaigning in Iowa before the state’s high-stakes caucuses next month. To facilitate that, the organization and its partners are recruiting volunteers to speak directly with the candidates at Iowa campaign events. ELPC is leading a coalition of national, regional and local organizations including the Iowa Environmental Council, National Audubon Society and League of Conservation Voters in the effort.

Similar campaigns by regional coalition groups are targeting voters in the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina, according to ELPC Deputy Director Kevin Brubaker.

Since launching the Google ads in August, Brubaker said there’s been a leap in traffic and volunteers to the campaign site, which allows people to register e-mail addresses and zip codes, sign a petition and send letters to editors. They’re also encouraged to submit videos to the site filmed at events during which candidates address global warming. Iowa Global Warming campaign staff determines which videos actually are published to the site, however.

“We need to control the site so it doesn’t inadvertently become a platform for or against a certain candidate,” Brubaker said. As a 501c3 public charity, the ELPC is prohibited by The Internal Revenue Code from directly or indirectly influencing elections.

The Google ads are targeted to keywords associated with better-known presidential candidates including Democrats Barack Obama, John Edwards and Clinton, as well as Republicans John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee. Several searches for each candidate conducted by ClickZ News, however, only resulted in Iowa Global Warming ads for searches on “Hillary Clinton” and “Fred Thompson.”

“We’re not in the business of steering voters to particular candidates,” stressed Brubaker, noting, “This is a non-partisan, non-political effort to raise the issue of global warming.”

Ads linking to IowaGlobalWarming.org also popped up from a search on “South Carolina global warming.” Similar campaigns are targeted to early primary voters in South Carolina and New Hampshire.

Although more volunteers have become aware of the campaign as a result of the search ads, Brubaker said the ads haven’t necessarily boosted video submissions. “This is not your prototypical Internet-based campaign,” he said. “The Internet is simply one door into a much more face-to-face .”

In fact, Brubaker suggested the retail politics-oriented environments in early voting states enable voters to speak one-on-one with candidates, creating more opportunities than elsewhere to have their voices heard by presidential hopefuls. “This is where the candidates are; this is where the candidates are listening to voters,” he said.

Thus far, several hundred of the 1,000 volunteers associated with the campaign have spoken with candidates about global warming, according to Brubaker. Still, he noted, “The real measure for the outcome we’re looking for is where the candidates are moving on the issue, and there we’ve been very, very pleased.”

The Iowa-centric campaign will end following the January 3 Iowa caucuses, added Brubaker. “At that point the caucuses are no longer the focus.”

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