These Are the Facts on Fossil Fuel Money Going to the Clinton and Sanders Campaigns

by Brian Johnson

April 1, 2016

After yesterday's confrontation between Hillary Clinton and a Greenpeace activist asking about the former Secretary of State's ties to the fossil fuel industry, we've seen lots of information make the rounds about the influence of fossil fuel money in this election. Let's set the record straight.

Fix Democracy Rally in New York

Activists hold signs outside a campaign fundraiser for Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton in New York City. Greenpeace is asking all of the presidential hopefuls to reject campaign funds from fossil fuel interests.

© Michael Nagle / Greenpeace

Updated April 14, 2016

In case you’ve missed the viral video of Secretary Hillary Clinton telling Greenpeace activist Eva Resnick-Day exactly what she thinks of questions about her fossil fuel industry ties, here it is again:

Since we released this video, both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns have responded, each making their own claims about the true nature of each other’s connections to the fossil fuel industry.

From the Clinton campaign:

“The simple truth is that this campaign has not taken a dollar from oil and gas industry PACs or corporations. The simple fact is that the Sanders campaign is misleading voters with their attacks. The money in question is from individuals who work for these companies. By the same metric, Bernie Sanders has taken more than $50,000 on this campaign from individuals working for oil and gas companies.”

From the Sanders campaign:

“The truth is that Secretary Clinton has relied heavily on funds from lobbyists working for the oil, gas and coal industry.”

What is the truth? Here are answers to set things straight.

The Clinton and Sanders campaigns are saying different things about their fossil fuel connections. What’s the true story?

For one, Greenpeace is not, as implied by the Clinton campaign, affiliated in any way with the Sanders campaign. We are an issue-based, non-partisan organization that does not endorse political candidates, and that’s not changing.

As far as fossil fuel connections, let’s dive deeper.

While the Clinton campaign is correct that it has not taken money from oil and gas PACs or corporations, its statement glides over the full nature of the Pledge to #FixDemocracy, which not only includes refusing money from fossil fuel PACs and fossil fuel corporations, but from fossil fuel lobbyists, board members and executives.

That distinction matters, and Secretary Clinton would know. Her campaign has already committed to refusing money from lobbyists registered under private prisons, a step Clinton understands is important to reforming our criminal justice system.

Given the enormous threat posed by climate change — which Clinton herself has acknowledged multiple times — we think a similar commitment regarding fossil fuels is more than appropriate.

How much money has the Clinton campaign taken from fossil fuel lobbyists, and how do we know?

Fifty-nine lobbyists that work for the coal, oil and gas companies have given $139,940 directly to the Clinton campaign. Forty-seven of those lobbyists gave the maximum allowable amount — $2,700.

Eleven oil and gas industry lobbyists also bundled for Clinton’s campaign as of the end of 2015. Bundling is a practice in which lobbyists use their personal and professional networks to collect additional donations for campaigns. How much have they bundled for the Clinton campaign? $1,348,410–a lot in campaign finance terms.

For details, check out this breakdown of all the lobbyist donations and bundling Greenpeace has tracked so far, listing each lobbyist and who they work for. All data was obtained from public forms posted to the Federal Election Commission. Lobbying records are filed with the Senate under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The list is limited to lobbyists who reported working for fossil fuel companies during the current election cycle (i.e. since January 2015).

Most of the lobbyists have multiple clients besides fossil fuel companies. Does that make a difference?

No. If fossil fuel companies felt like lobbyists’ other clients somehow hampered those lobbyists’ ability to push their agenda, fossil companies wouldn’t have hired them. But fossil fuel companies have hired those lobbyists–in spades. Figures from Oil Change International show that the fossil fuel industry spent $308 million dollars on lobbying in the last congress.

Secretary Clinton acknowledges in the video that “I have money from people who work for fossil fuel companies.” Where does that stand with respect to the pledge to #FixDemocracy?

The pledge includes refusing money from fossil fuel executives and board members. Those people certainly count as people who work for fossil fuel companies. Greenpeace analysis shows that $98,425, or about a third of the Clinton campaign’s individual contributions comes from fossil fuel executives.

That number also includes $20,050 in donations from lobbyists who work at fossil fuel companies, rather than being outsourced by fossil fuel companies to “K Street” firms. Check our breakdown for the details.

The Clinton campaign claims that Sanders also takes money from fossil fuel. Is that true?

The Clinton campaign is probably referring to the $53,760 the Sanders campaign has taken from employees of the oil and gas industry, which would include executives and board members. However, the Pledge to #FixDemocracy asks candidates to refuse all future fossil fuel donations.

The Sanders campaign signed the Pledge to #FixDemocracy on January 11. Greenpeace analyzed contributions since that date to check that the Sanders campaign had not violated the pledge. Our results show that Sanders has taken $18 from an executive of a fossil fuel equipment supplier. Therefore, we are asking the Sanders campaign to return this money as part of the pledge.

Why is Greenpeace including super PACS in its figures? Candidates don’t have control over super PACS.

While it’s true that candidates don’t have direct control over super PACs that support them, the true impact of Super PACs on candidates can’t be ignored. Greenpeace research shows that donors with fossil fuel interests have given $3.25 million to the main super PAC supporting Secretary Clinton. That’s about one in every 15 dollars that has gone to her super PAC.

As Greenpeace Researcher Jesse Coleman explains: “When people walk into a room with $3.25 million, in a political system where you have to raise this kind of money to win, you’re going to have to make concessions.”

Senator Sanders has taken the bold step of disavowing all super PAC support. The pledge to #fixdemocracy does not ask candidates to take this step. But it does ask candidates to commit to using their potential offices to get money out of our political system. Ending super PACs are a key part of that change.

TAKE ACTION: Tell ALL presidential candidates to sign the Pledge to #FixDemocracy and reject fossil fuel industry contributions!

Brian Johnson

By Brian Johnson

Brian is a campaigner with Greenpeace's Climate and Energy Team. Follow him @BFWJohnson.

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