Environmental Groups Forge Alliance for Campaign Donation

Two of the nation’s largest environmental groups are combining forces to raise $5 million for the 2014 election to blunt better-financed efforts by industry groups fighting tougher climate-change laws.

The League of Conservation Voters and the political arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council said today they’re starting LeadingGreen to raise funds for federal candidates and identify more big donors for broader lobbying efforts. The fundraising is similar to Emily’s List, the nation’s largest political action committee, which attracts donations and then bundles cash donations to the candidates it endorses.

Officials in the environmental groups said combining their fundraising may help dent efforts of pro-industry groups that outspend them on issues, including to block new rules to limit emissions tied to global warming from coal-fired power plants.

“We always have the opinion that we’ll likely be outspent, but we’re certainly going to use every tool at our disposal,” said David Willett, vice president for communications at the Washington-based League of Conservation Voters. “That’s one of the reasons we’re starting this effort. We need to counter the big money that’s on the polluter side.”

Business Lobby

The $5 million goal pales in comparison to funds spent by industry groups that are at odds with both groups. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s biggest business lobby, spent $35.7 million in the 2012 elections, and Americans for Prosperity, a group founded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, reported spending $36.3 million.

The environmentalist’s collaboration will combine the policy know-how of the NRDC Action Fund and fundraising prowess of the LCV -- which gave almost $2 million to federal candidates in the 2012 elections and spent $14 million to educate and mobilize voters.

“We saw the challenges that are facing the environment community,” Melissa Harrison, a spokeswoman for the NRDC Action Fund in Washington, said in an interview. “ We’ve decided to form this alliance to really take our involvement in both organizations to the next level.”

Levi Russell, a spokesman for Americans for Prosperity, said it’s doubtful environmental groups will succeed in pushing Congress to pass tougher laws governing carbon emissions.

No Appetite

“There’s not a great appetite to get behind any significant climate change-based legislation in Congress,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve seen that since around 2010,” when Republicans won control of the House. Even for voters who care about the environment, climate change is often not the issue they care about most, Russell said.

The Chamber of Commerce will “advocate for candidates who understand the free enterprise system and support policies that will grow the economy and create jobs,” Blair Latoff Holmes, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based business group, said in a statement.

The environmentalist’s joint effort coincides with an increase in money from the pro-environmental side. Billionaire retired investor and climate activist Tom Steyer has pledged to raise $100 million, including $50 million of his own cash, for independent expenditures to candidates in 2014 and 2016.

Congress Candidates

LeadingGreen will donate to candidates for Congress in both chambers, focusing mostly on the Senate, which Republicans seek to wrest from the Democrats this year, Willett said. Democrats now control 55 of the chamber’s 100 seats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has refused to allow votes on House-passed legislation limiting the powers of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Protecting the firewall in the Senate is definitely a priority,” he said.

The alliance will help push President Barack Obama’s drive for new restrictions on coal-burning power plants, Harrison said. In January, a coalition of business groups including the Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute formed the Partnership for a Better Energy Future, and warned of job losses if new EPA rules are restrictive.

“The threat of climate change has never been more obvious or more urgent,” Harrison said.

(Updates with Chamber of Commerce comment in 10th paragraph.)
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