Colorado is a battleground in the war to control the U.S. Senate. Follow the money backing Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, and you begin to see some interesting alliances – an industry lobby, an environmentalist group, and the Democratic leadership.
Tom Kiernan is CEO of the American Wind Energy Association – the main lobby group for the wind industry. Kiernan is also the treasurer of the League of Conservation Voters, a politically active non-profit, and sits on LCV’s board.
Integrating the non-profit groups like LCV with the industry lobbies like AWEA was a chief goal Kiernan brought to AWEA.
“For my entire career,” Kiernan wrote in the Huffington Post last May as he took the CEO job at AWEA, “I’ve sought to strengthen the ties between conservation and the American business community, because a strong environment and a strong economy go hand in hand.”
Here’s one way to understand that line: strong wind subsidies and strong wind profits go hand in hand.
Kiernan isn’t the only connection between the groups. Wind investor Peter Mandelstam sat on AWEA’s board and LCV’s board simultaneously, until he left AWEA’s board last year. For seven years, Mandelstam chaired AWEA’s Offshore Group.
Both groups are playing in competitive Senate races this year, specifically Iowa and Colorado. The ads the two groups are running of are very different flavors.
AWEA’s ads are technically issue ads – that is, they don’t explicitly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate.
“The wind industry is not just a source of energy for Colorado,” one AWEA ad begins, “it’s a source of jobs. Senator Udall understands that.” As images of spinning windmills and hard-working Americans grace the screen, the narrator concludes, “Senator Udall has been a champion of wind energy here in Colorado. Thanks to Senator Mark Udall, it’s happening here.”
“Thank Senator Udall,” the text on the screen reads.
AWEA officials explain that this isn’t a campaign ad, but of course it ran in the first weeks of the general election (four weeks after Rep. Cory Gardner won the GOP primary). At the same time, AWEA launched an ad telling Iowa voters to call Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa – Braley happens to be the Democratic nominee for Senate there. Making sure to be bipartisan, AWEA’s first round of ads also included one applauding Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is not up for reelection this year.
While AWEA runs the happy pro-Udall ad, LCV plays bad cop. “The Koch Brothers are steering a million dollars into misleading ads to buy one of their biggest allies a promotion to the Senate,” LCV President Gene Karpinski said as the group rolled out its independent expenditure campaign against Gardner. “But Cory Gardner and his oil billionaire backers will find that the facts are not for sale.”
LCV is technically a non-partisan organization. LCV spokesman Daniel Weiss points out that the organization’s political arm is supporting liberal Sen. Susan Collins – who leads her opponent by 30 points and hardly needs the help.
LCV is also playing in the Iowa race, playing its part in a $1 million green-group effort against Republican Joni Ernst – while AWEA touts her opponent Braley.
So LCV and AWEA have quite the overlap in politics and personnel. AWEA is the nice guy and the industry representative. LCV is the attack dog and the environmentalist non-profit.
Are AWEA and LCV working together? I asked LCV’s Weiss. He answered: “We share information with other groups that are also doing independent expenditures in some races.” AWEA answered the question this way: “AWEA has always had ties throughout both the conservation and business communities. However, we have not worked with the League of Conservation Voters on their advertisements, nor have they worked on any of ours.”
LCV also has an interesting overlap with the Democratic Party. LCV’s board included Obama confidant John Podesta, until Podesta joined the Obama White House as a counselor.
Follow the money, and you find other overlaps. Waterfront Strategies is an arm of a political consultancy named GMMB, which the Huffington Post’s Paul Blumenthal described as “the powerhouse media consulting shop that produces President Barack Obama’s ads.”
LCV’s 501(c)3 has paid $1.3 million to Waterfront Strategies for producing tv and web ads, and buying airtime for them. The League of Conservation Voters Action Fund (the group’s PAC) and the League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund (the group’s SuperPAC) have both hired Waterfront Strategies, too, as has the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, according to FEC filings.
Waterfront’s two biggest clients, judging by a perusal of FEC filings, are the Senate Majority PAC and the House Majority PAC – Democratic SuperPACs that are effectively controlled by the party leadership.
Weiss points out that many SMP candidates, such as oil-friendly Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, don’t have LCV’s backing. But the top story on LCV’s home page has the headline “Save the Senate.”
Clearly, then, AWEA and LCV have their political and personal overlaps. LCV and the Democratic leadership also have their political and personal overlaps.
Nothing here looks illegal. But most people probably think of LCV as a grassroots organization of motivated environmentalists. They might be surprised to see how closely it stands next to an industry lobby and a political party.
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