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Documents: Entergy spent more than $50K for paid actors to support NOE gas plant

Documents show that Entergy was fully aware that the support for the gas plant was not entirely genuine. (FOX 8 Photo/FILE) Documents show that Entergy was fully aware that the support for the gas plant was not entirely genuine. (FOX 8 Photo/FILE)
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Entergy paid more than $50,000 for hired actors to attend City Council meetings in March and express support for building a gas plant in New Orleans East, according to an open records request FOX 8 received Wednesday.

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Entergy supplied more than 600 documents of past correspondence between itself and the astroturfing companies. The documents, including emails, contracts, and receipts, show that Entergy was fully aware that the support for the gas plant was not entirely genuine.

In March, the City Council voted 6-to-1 in favor of allowing Entergy to build the plant. But Entergy also started looking for help from the Virginia-based Hawthorn Group, a self-described international public affairs company, as early as August 2017.

In a PowerPoint, Hawthorn touted how "nothing is off the shelf" and "we've worked for you before."

Entergy signed a contract with Hawthorn for their public relations services in October 2017.

In the following months, Entergy and Hawthorn executives continued emailing back and forth. Hawthorne hired the Beverly Hills-based company Crowds on Demand, and the three groups hashed out details such as how many supporters and speakers were needed to attend the council meetings and what it would cost. Emails also show conversations about the number of orange shirts to buy, and when the actors planned to show up at the council meetings.

A contract change order form and some receipts from Hawthorn show Entergy paid the company more than $50,000. When word started to leak about the paid actors, Hawthorne helped Entergy craft answers for any questions council members might ask.

Entergy released the following statement Wednesday:

"We agree public discourse about important projects such as the New Orleans Power Station must be rooted in integrity and transparency, and we will cooperate with the New Orleans City Council in its investigation. As previously stated, Entergy contracted with Hawthorn to identify legitimate grassroots support. Hawthorn violated the terms of the contract and entered into a subcontract with Crowds on Demand. Crowds on Demand paid individuals to appear at two public meetings without Entergy’s knowledge."

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