Let them compete! Criticisms of Hillary Clinton for energy worker donations without merit

Environmental groups are funded by donations from self-interested donors – just like Clinton campaign

Hillary Clinton is under the gun today for taking campaign donations from “fossil fuel interests.” Big deal. We should recognize the criticism from environmental groups for the naked political self-interest it is.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton responds angrily to eco-activist at a Thursday rally in New York. Photo: Greenpeace.

Clinton was at Purchase College in New York to give a speech when she was accosted by Eva Resnick-Day, an organizer with Greenpeace USA, who demanded that the Democratic frontrunner forego contributions from the fossil fuel industry.

“I am so sick of the Sanders campaign lying about that,” Clinton is seen saying in a video making the rounds on the Internet, while pointing her finger at Resnick-Day, and adding “I’m sick of it.”

The issue at hand Thursday was Greenpeace’s “Fix Democracy” pledge that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has already signed. The pledge commits candidates to reject “fossil fuel money”…”so that we know your platforms come from your conscience and not from your biggest donors.”

Clinton has not signed the pledge and both Sanders supporters and eco-activists like Resnick-Day have hounded her about it on the campaign trail.

Hillary Clinton

Democratic presidential challenger Bernie Sanders.

But a related and potentially bigger issue is the accusation that fossil fuels industry lobbyists are “bundling” donations from well-heeled executives within the oil and gas industry. “I have money from people who work for fossil fuel companies,” Clinton said in a video posted and later confirmed by Greenpeace, the Canadian Press reported.

How much has Clinton received from people who work in the oil and gas industry? A paltry $333,262, according to The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks Federal Election Commission reports. Compare that to top recipient Jeb Bush, who received over $10 million or the $1.3 million given to Ted Cruz.

Sanders’ hands are not entirely clean – he received $53,760 from oil and gas workers – which led Clinton to accuse the Senator’s camp of lying, which led in turn to tut tutting by some pundits, even some calls for the former Secretary of State to apologize.

But there is a bigger issue at play here.

The environmental movement that is supporting Sanders and hounding Clinton is itself funded by self-interested parties, such as environmental charities and companies involved in renewable energy, which now competes directly with fossil fuels.

Hillary Clinton

Michael Bloomberg, supporter of the Beyond Coal Campaign.

For instance, last year the Energy & Environment Legal Institute released a report detailing how some billionaires like Michael Bloomberg were donating tens of millions of dollars to the Sierra Club to fund campaigns against coal-fired power plants at the same time they were heavily invested in renewables. The Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign claims it has already closed over 200 coal power plants in the US, out of a fleet numbering around 550.

Investor activists like Bloomberg claim to be on the side of the angels, but funding campaigns to shut down your competitors looks an awfully lot like predatory self-interest.

All aided and abetted by the guardians of the global ecosystem.

Then there are the big environmental charities that quietly contribute millions and millions to eco-activists directly involved in ground and public relations campaigns against energy infrastructure.

Vancouver-based blogger Vivian Krause has rigorously documented American charities’ funding of the battle against the Canadian oil sands and pipeline proposals to transport diluted bitumen from Alberta to tidewater in neighboring British Columbia. The money has paid – and continues to pay – for spectacularly successful campaigns that thus far have stymied Enbridge and Texas-based Kinder Morgan pipeline projects.

I’ve criticized Krause’s work in the past, arguing that it does nothing but comfort the comfortable and enables gigantic energy companies to feel like victims, rather than vigorously defending and advancing their projects.

But the argument cuts both ways. If Big Green is free to accept money from billionaires who are arguably in a conflict of interest and then use it fight Big Oil, then the “fossil fuels industry” is free to legally donate to political candidates and defend its interests.

In fact, we should welcome this clash of ideas.

As the global economy enters the early stages of a transition to new forms of energy technologies, the new and the old will inevitably compete in the marketplace for the attention of consumers. And the competition is good for both new and old energy technologies because it drives greater efficiencies and lower costs. This is the way markets work.

One competitor should not have a hand tied behind its back.

And neither Hillary Clinton nor the Republican candidates should be pilloried in public because they accepted money from Big Oil – just as they will no doubt accept donations from Big Green.

Posted in: Markham on Energy

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