Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Mogul Opens Wallet to Lure Republicans to Embrace Clean Energy

  • Jay Faison to fund GOP candidates, even climate-change deniers
  • Tech entrepreneur wants to be the Tom Steyer of Republicans

Entrepreneur-turned-activist Jay Faison says Republicans’ political survival depends on embracing clean energy -- whether a candidate believes in climate change or not -- and he’s backing that up with tens of millions of dollars.

QuickTake Solar Energy

"Our mission is to make conservative clean energy a priority for the GOP," Faison told reporters Tuesday in Washington, where he is opening a new office for his environmental foundation ClearPath. "It may take some time, but absolutely, we can do it. It’s critical for the longevity of the Republican party."

The businessman from North Carolina is the face of a new kind of political activism on green energy: the conservative counterpart to billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, who poured $74 million into 2014 races and is spending millions more this year on Democratic candidates to make climate change a top-tier issue in the November elections.

Faison got in the game last year, when he used $165 million in proceeds from selling SnapAV, a Charlotte-based manufacturer of audio-video products, to endow ClearPath and start a political advocacy group with another $10 million. Faison said a super-PAC launched in February has raised the first $2 million of a $5 million goal and he has made a "seven-figure" buy of online ads insisting "clean energy can be conservative."

He’s aiming to steal the Democrat’s green energy mojo. "The left has owned the clean energy debate for too long," he said. Republicans "need to move from defense to offense on this issue."

Green Agenda

Faison is pushing an agenda that advances innovation while favoring nuclear power, hydropower, clean coal and natural gas. He’s no fan of a carbon tax or the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan that aims to slash greenhouse gas emissions from electricity. "We don’t need more subsidies and top-down regulations," Faison said. “We need more innovation and less regulation."

Faison’s focus is solely on Republican candidates; he won’t give to Democrats, even if they also support market-based clean energy policies.

Belief in climate change isn’t essential, Faison said. Politicians can support energy policies that bring cleaner air and other environmental benefits beyond just lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Leading Republican presidential candidates including Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have so far downplayed the risks of climate change, and some Republican lawmakers flatly deny it’s happening because of human activity.

Faison believes climate change is a threat. “I, along with many Republicans -- at least 61 percent in a recent survey -- believe that without a significant reduction in those emissions, global warming will soon be a very serious problem for our planet,” he wrote in a Politico opinion article last year.

Congressional Campaigns

For now, Faison is staying out of the presidential primary, focusing on House and Senate races where he can get more bang for his buck. Although he has made personal contributions to former presidential candidates, with donations to the super-PACs supporting former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, both Republicans, Faison is not endorsing a Republican candidate now.

"We’ve been pretty clear all along that we only support candidates that are good on our issue during the campaigns," Faison said, adding that "things might change" once the contest narrows to a pair of Democratic and Republican presidential nominees.

ClearPath just opened an office on Capitol Hill, hiring former Republican Senate staff member Zak Baig to manage government affairs and bringing on advisers including former Constellation Energy Group Inc. Executive Vice President Jim Connaughton.

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