Earth On Fire: Follow the money

Tensions flared between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a Greenpeace activist at a campaign rally last week.

The paid organizer, Eva Resnick-Day, pressed Secretary Clinton to “act on your words and reject fossil fuel money in the future in your campaign.” Suffice it to say, the secretary did not react kindly to this request.

“I do not have… I have money from people who work for fossil fuel companies. I am so sick – I am so sick – of the Sanders campaign lying about me. I’m sick of it,” the candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination responded angrily.

Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) shot back, arguing in an email sent out to supporters that “the fossil fuel industry has given more than $4.5 million to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and her top super PAC, including 11 lobbyists who have bundled more than $1 million to put her in the White House.”

The media covered the exchange with great fanfare but, sadly, neglected to properly inform the public of the truth. Let’s look at the facts: Last year, a number of organizations sent a letter to all of the major presidential candidates and asked them to reject contributions from oil, gas and coal companies. While Senator Sanders and former Governor Martin O’Malley (D-Maryland) both signed the pledge, Secretary Clinton declined to do so.

While the secretary technically did not lie in her exchange with Resnick-Day — her campaign has not received any money from fossil fuel companies themselves — she has accepted this cycle more than $300,000 from those working directly for the industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Senator Sanders’ campaign has accepted about $53,760 in such donations.

But lobbyists affiliated with fossil fuel companies have given nearly $1.5 million to her campaign, and the main super PAC supporting her has received more than $4.5 million from large donors connected to the industry. Senator Sanders, by contrast, does not have a super PAC advocating on his behalf.

This matters because candidates’ funding sources tend to influence their policy positions, demonstrated by the differences between Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton as it relates to mitigating climate change. While Senator Sanders has announced his flat opposition to hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking,” the secretary promoted the highly emissive practice during her tenure at the State Department. Although she has called for greater oversight of fracking operations, Secretary Clinton does not unilaterally oppose the technique. Furthermore, an analysis of the plans published by the two candidates to address the United States’ contribution to global warming reveals that Senator Sander’s proposal is significantly more ambitious than Secretary Clinton’s.

In fairness to the Clinton campaign, the differences on this issue between the Democrats and the Republicans seeking their respective nominations are far greater than those between Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton. Nevertheless, voters should scrutinize quite closely electoral contributions and stated policy positions. The threat and urgency of climate change demand it.