CNN commentator attacks green policies while his firm collects hundreds of thousands in fossil fuel-related lobbying fees

CNN starts segment by noting some of Urban's lobbying ties after Media Matters inquiry

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

During appearances on Jake Tapper’s CNN programs, CNN political commentator David Urban has praised President Donald Trump for rolling back environmental protections and repeatedly warned Democrats against pursuing pro-environment policies. But CNN repeatedly failed to disclose his major financial conflict of interest during those segments: Urban lobbies for numerous fossil fuel-related clients, which have paid his firm nearly $900,000 since 2017. 

CNN did not respond to a request for comment. But during Urban's first appearance after Media Matters reached out to CNN for comment for this story, the network stated that Urban is “a corporate lobbyist who has clients in the defense and energy industries.”

Urban is the president of American Continental Group (ACG). As part of his work for ACG, he has personally lobbied for fossil fuel companies, including Aiteo Global Group and Anadarko Petroleum (Anadarko terminated its relationship with ACG on January 31). His other clients have included the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline, a proposed natural gas pipeline in Oregon, the related Jordan Cove LNG export facility, and Norfolk Southern, which transports coal

Since the beginning of 2017, ACG has pocketed $870,000 in fees from those clients, according to a tally of data via OpenSecrets.org

Despite these financial conflicts of interest, Urban has repeatedly appeared on CNN and warned Democrats against pursuing pro-environmental policies. For instance: 

  • While discussing Democratic environmental proposals such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) Green New Deal, Urban said on the May 14 edition of The Lead with Jake Tapper: “I would just point out that AOC is not running for president and doesn't have to win in Pennsylvania, where there's Carbon County, Pennsylvania. What do you think comes out of Carbon County? Coal.”  
  • Urban said on the May 5 edition of State of the Union with Jake Tapper that the Green New Deal is one of the Democratic proposals that’s “very progressive, very left of center” and isn’t “going to play well in the states that the Democrats need to capture to win an electoral college map -- Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin. The ideas that the Democrats are talking about play very well in New York, San Francisco, Chicago -- big cities.” 
  • Urban connected the Green New Deal to socialism on the February 24 edition of State of the Union with Jake Tapper, stating that while younger people may not have a problem with socialism, for people who are “over 35 who turn out to vote a lot, it is a bad thing. ... The Green New Deal, where -- paying people not to work, sounds a little bit like socialism to me.” Tapper replied: “That was in an early document.” 
  • Urban said on the January 31, 2018, edition of The Lead with Jake Tapper that one of the things that “swung the election was Hillary Clinton's war on coal. She was completely out of touch with the working class, the Democrats in Pennsylvania.” 

Urban also praised Trump for rolling back environmental protections. He stated on the October 15, 2017, edition of State of the Union with Jake Tapper that “the president and this administration have done so much so far,” then listed what he thought were Trump’s accomplishments, including the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, and mentioned “Pittsburgh, not Paris” -- a reference to Trump’s quote about withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement. 

CNN did not disclose Urban’s lobbying for fossil fuel-related companies during those discussions. 

Media Matters reached out to CNN for comment last week about those lack of disclosures. The network did not respond but during Urban's June 30 appearance on State of the Union with Jake Tapper, guest host Brianna Keilar started a panel segment by stating: “We have to disclose that you are a corporate lobbyist who has clients in the defense and energy industries.” Urban replied, laughing: “We get in trouble. We always get in trouble. I get in trouble.”  

Urban previously used his CNN position to advocate for a missile strike against Iran without the network disclosing that he lobbies for defense contractors, and he touted the National Association of Home Builders' opposition to the GOP tax bill without the network mentioning that the organization is his client and hired him to lobby on “tax reform.”

OpenSecrets reported on June 28 that Urban recently registered to lobby for defense contractor Lockheed Martin, adding: 

Newly-minted acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper, a former Raytheon executive and lobbyist himself, is reportedly close friends with Urban. The two graduated from West Point, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in 1986. 

Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, two of the world’s largest defense contractors, work closely on major weapons, including the F-35 fighter jet and the Javelin missile system. Urban on CNN specifically mentioned the Tomahawk cruise missile, the U.S. Navy’s go-to missile originally manufactured by General Dynamics and now made by Raytheon, Urban’s former client from 2015 to 2017. 

Lockheed Martin and Raythoen each saw their stock soar after Trump announced the U.S. would leave the Iran nuclear deal. The stocks dropped before the New Year then rebounded. Executives of major defense companies, including Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, have told investors that Iran tensions were good for business, The Intercept reported. Defense companies have consistently denied lobbying government on whether the U.S. should engage in conflicts.

Update (7/1/19): This post was updated to note Anadarko’s lobbying termination.