The Energy 202: Top green group aims record $100 million at defeating Trump and Republicans

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Thursday, September 10, 2020

A super PAC affiliated with the League of Conservation Voters and related groups is aiming to spend more than $100 million to elect Joe Biden and other Democrats in November, breaking the Washington-based organization’s previous record of $85 million in 2018.

The prospect of granting Trump four more years to unwind climate regulations is motivating deep-pocketed Democratic donors to give to Biden. In opening their wallets to green campaign groups, they are signaling their desire for legislation to address rising global temperatures. A similar surge in donations helped Democrats retake the House in 2018, say environmentalists.

“A lot of people realize how high the stakes are,” said Pete Maysmith, senior vice president of campaigns at the LCV Victory Fund, the super PAC affiliated with the LCV. “Whether it’s wildfires blanketing the West with smoke, whether it’s the hurricanes hitting the Gulf Coast, the flooding inundating the Midwest, the time is now to act on climate change.”

“This is the most ever,” he added of the group’s spending.

That gush of money, in turn, has made the LCV Victory Fund a major campaign force, buffering the usual tide of fossil fuel money to Trump and other Republicans. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, it is the country’s seventh-biggest super PAC in terms of fundraising.

The nine-figure sum will be invested in electing Democrats in the hopes of passing major climate legislation.

Over the summer, the super PAC spent $14 million on digital and mail ads targeting about 1.6 million voters in six swing states — Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Down ballot, the LCV Victory Fund is focusing on helping first-term House Democrats keep their seats while ousting several incumbent Republicans in the Senate, including Sens. Martha McSally (Ariz.), Steve Daines (Mont.) and Thom Tillis (N.C.). The super PAC is also considering running ads in Iowa and Maine, Maysmith said.

With the coronavirus pandemic still gripping the country, the super PAC is investing $10 million in both mail and in-person get-out-the-vote efforts.

About a third of the $100 million total comes via the GiveGreen initiative that directs donors’ money to the campaigns of environmentally friendly candidates.

The LCV Victory Fund runs that donation program with both the NRDC Action Fund PAC, a political arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and NextGen America, an advocacy group run by billionaire financier and former presidential candidate Tom Steyer.

A number of related pro-Biden groups are also raising donations on the climate issue.

One of them, Climate Leaders for Biden, has held four online fundraisers generating nearly $15 million in contributions via GiveGreen in support of Biden’s candidacy as he updated his climate proposal this summer.

“The vice president is very passionate about this,” Steyer, a member of the group, said in a July interview. “He’s taken climate and done exactly what we’d hoped he’d done.”

Other high-dollar donors include Nat Simons, who created the investment firm Meritage Group, and Nicole Systrom, who founded the clean energy consultancy Sutro Energy Group.

Yet another group, Clean Energy for Biden, has held around 40 fundraising, phone-banking and other events for Biden, raising more than $2 million for him and other Democratic candidates.

That group has given its 5,000 members the chance to interact virtually with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D), Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., who also ran against Biden.

“Climate is finally being taken seriously as the existential crisis it is,” said Dan Reicher, a former Energy Department official under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama who co-founded and co-chairs Clean Energy for Biden. “And there is a large and fast-growing industry to address it.”

The gush of spending is in line with Biden’s effort to draw a sharp contrast with Trump on climate change.

At the Democratic National Convention, the former vice president called climate change one of four “historic crises”facing the country, along with the pandemic, the economic recession and racial injustice.

To court younger climate-concerned voters once skeptical of his campaign, Biden released a $2 trillion clean-energy plan over the summer that is more aggressive and extensive than what he previously proposed, calling for the elimination of carbon pollution from the power sector by 2035.

While Trump has made recent environmental overturns by banning offshore drilling in Florida, his administration by contrast has weakened rules to make cars more fuel efficient and pushed power plants to cut the release of climate-warming emissions.

Amid other health and economic emergencies, climate change may end up taking a back seat.

During the presidential primary, climate change ranked as a top issue among Democratic voters. But recent polling shows concern about rising temperatures has ebbed amid shutdowns and protests. Nationwide in May, 33 percent of registered voters said climate change is “very important,” according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll — a 10 percentage point decline from February.

In response, Biden has emphasized early studies suggesting air pollution is making covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, more deadly. “Covid is shining a bright light on the structural racism that plagues our laws, our institutions and our culture,” Biden said at an Earth Day fundraiser organized by Clean Energy for Biden.

Similarly, a Michigan radio ad funded by the LCV Victory Fund in support of Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) is emphasizing how African Americans have higher rates of rates of asthma and other respiratory issues that exacerbate the illness.

“Gary Peters understands that systemic racism has led to huge disparities for Black Americans,” the ad says. “He has worked to stop polluting industries in our cities.”

Biden and his environmentalist allies have looked to link the pandemic and climate change as areas in which Trump has rejected the advice of experts.

“He called both a hoax,” Maysmith said. “He ignored the scientists. He tore down the institutions designed to protect us.”