Jun 11, 2014

When Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin visited the jungles of Ecuador on what she described as a fact-finding mission recently, all her travel expenses were paid by the Ecuadorian government through a New York public relations firm called MCSquared – a fact she failed to initially report on public disclosure forms.

Now that same public relations firm is suspected of hiring phony protesters to demonstrate outside the Chevron shareholders meeting in Midland, Texas, last month. The protest was part of a “faux campaign” launched by Chevron’s opponents, who want the company to pay billions of dollars in damages stemming from an Ecuadorian court judgment – a judgment an American court determined was based on fraud and bribery.

McLaughlin’s association with the MCSquared public relations firm and her decision to accept the travel payments as a gift from the Ecuadorian government raise new questions about how far she is willing to go to battle Chevron, Richmond’s largest taxpayer.

The mayor’s six-day trip to Ecuador was in support the South American nation in its ongoing battle against Chevron, which it falsely blames for polluting the rain forest. She returned saying she had gained a “broadened perspective and steeled resolve to continue her struggle against big oil,” according to the West County Times, even though, as the video below reveals, the case against Chevron in Ecuador was based on fraudulent reports.

Despite telling people the trip was paid for by the Ecuadorian government, the mayor failed to initially report the trip on state conflict-of-interest forms, and only amended the report after she was contacted by the West County Times.  The amended Form 700 notes that she was indeed paid $4,499 from the office of the president of Ecuador, but also notes that the payment was funneled through the MCSquared public relations firm in Brooklyn.

MCSquared is a small, boutique firm that appears to have few clients outside of the government of Ecuador.  Since October, it has issued 16 press releases, all regarding Ecuador or the government’s activities against Chevron. It has a satellite office in Quito, Ecuador, and one the three employees listed on its website, Jean Paul Borja, writes for El Ciudandano, the state-run newspaper in Ecuador.

In an interview with Businessweek, Maria Garey, another employee listed on the MCSquared website, denied paying the phony protesters to attend the meeting May 28, although she admitted being at the protest with Borja to assist two indigenous tribe members who traveled from Ecuador to Midland.

But Karen Hinton, the publicist for Steven Donziger, the New York attorney at the center of fraudulent Ecuadorian court judgment, referred the Businessweek reporter to Garey. “Call MCSquared,” Hinton told Businessweek. “They handled (the protest).”

The promise of payments managed to draw only a few dozen largely uninterested protesters outside the meeting – despite MCSquared’s PR effort to attract “environmentalists, human rights activists, corporate accountability groups and Ecuadorian indigenous.”

Businessweek concluded that such PR misdirection and deception is “emblematic of the dishonesty that has come to permeate a two-decade-long activist campaign focused on oil contamination in Ecuador.”

Requests to the Mayor’s Office seeking comment from McLaughlin on her association with MCSquared have not been returned.


  1. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks. Chevron has a long history of hiring phony protesters, typically through surrogates such as construction trades and local organizations.

    Tom Butt | Jun 12th, 2014
  2. My guess is that Richmond’s Mayor McLaughlin chose air travel to Ecuador (versus swimming, walking or cycling), which requires a refined petroleum product (jet fuel) that was likely manufactured in Richmond by the same company that pays her salary and similarly brilliant Richmond city council members who also depend on fuels for their own travel convenience.

    Tom W (Proud Richmond resident) | Jun 12th, 2014
  3. The Mayor and Tom Butt needs to go. The Richmond city council has a long history of extortion where big business is concerned. First, there was Bethlehem Steel in the sixties. The city council got the Steel corp to build in Richmond, then because of concerns from Parchester Village, decided to limit the development to eliminate possible pollution. Even after the steel manufacturer donated land for the Richmond Municipal Golf Course, the city council raised the taxes on Bethlehem Steel. In fact the city council raised the taxes every year for ten years before bethlehem steel closed their doors. Mr. R. Lewis, who was in charge of west coast operations for Bethlehem Steel, stated that Bethlehem Steel stayed in Richmond for ten years to honor their commitment to the Dept. of the Interior to manufacture structures for the power grid. He also stated that the steel corp. couldn’t wait to get out of Richmond.
    Captain Bob of the Cobra, deep sea fishing, was happy to leave his Richmond berth at the Richmond Marina. The city council was already getting dock fees as well as a percentage of his deep sea fishing charters, decided get a percentage of his new contract with the Army Corp of Engineers to survey for dredging the bay. He was happy that he found a cheaper berth in Sausalito, a real tourist destination.
    I imagine Safeway was probably glad to leave Richmond as well after the fire.
    When it comes to Chevron, after all the years the corporation was responsible for keeping Richmond alive, the Mayor and some members of the Richmond City Council wants to prove that they will enjoy doing it with Pride on Purpose.

    Alvin Todd | Jun 13th, 2014
  4. @ Tom Butt – so I guess if Chevron did something unethical at some point in the past, then that means that Gayle McLaughlin can now do unethical things too? Are you saying that it is morally justified for an elected official to align herself with a corrupt foreign government and she can continue to publicly support a case which was found in a court of law to be based on fraud and bribery? You politicians have a very interesting code of ethics. Or perhaps you were just trying to change the subject.

    ChiChi P. | Jun 13th, 2014
  5. […] class hotels. The government of Ecuador has also paid for international journalists, activists and foreign politicians to travel to Ecuador to take part in the propaganda […]

    pingback Will Ecuador’s Paid Protesters Get a Raise This Year? - The Amazon Post | Aug 11th, 2015
  6. […] over the last year the Republic of Ecuador has footed the bill for international journalists, U.S. politicians and others to travel to Ecuador to join in their anti-Chevron […]

    pingback There they go again! New Evidence of Fake Anti-Chevron Protestors Uncovered - The Amazon Post | Aug 17th, 2015

About the Author

Mike Aldax is the editor of the Richmond Standard. He has 13 years of journalism experience, most recently as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. He previously held roles as reporter and editor at Bay City News, Napa Valley Register, Garden Island Newspaper in Kaua’i, and the Queens Courier in New York City.