Photographer: Michael Short/Bloomberg

Tesla Hosts Lobby Group Shunned by Ford Over Climate Stance

  • Company donating D.C. showroom for ALEC cocktail party
  • Move comes as electric car maker intensifies direct sale push

Tesla Motors Inc. is hosting a party for a conservative lobbying group whose opposition to climate-change initiatives has driven Google, Ford Motor Co. and several oil companies to drop their membership.

Tesla, a clean-energy tech company that makes electric vehicles and is moving into solar panels on rooftops, is not a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council. It is nonetheless hosting a reception for a new ALEC venture at its Washington, D.C. showroom Thursday evening, blocks away from the site of the organization’s three-day policy summit.

The invitation promises "an evening of cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and networking" at the Tesla showroom, where guests will be able to meet the leaders of ALEC’s newly created "Energy Innovation Project," dedicated to helping states forge policies fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship surrounding U.S. energy resources.

Although Tesla’s involvement is limited to providing its space as a destination for ALEC’s cocktail party, it’s an unusual act by the electric car manufacturer, whose Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk is an outspoken advocate of carbon taxes, because ALEC actively lobbies against them. The group also has pushed to repeal state renewable energy mandates and criticized caps on greenhouse gas emissions.

Direct Sales

Tesla representatives declined to comment. But the company’s K Street store is regularly used for cocktail receptions and events that further its word-of-mouth strategy for building business and luring potential customers into cars for test drives.

Tesla has been intensifying its campaign to convince states to allow the California-based company to sell electric cars directly to customers, without going through franchised dealers. Despite a recent win in Virginia, the company is battling limits on direct selling in other states, including Michigan, where it has gone to court to challenge the restrictions.

Tesla’s decision to open its D.C. showroom for the ALEC partygoers raised eyebrows among oil, gas and electric companies that are members of the group and are already skeptical of its new Energy Innovation Project, funded in part by the environmentally minded ClearPath Foundation. ClearPath and its founder, entrepreneur Jay Faison, are dedicated to persuading conservatives to fight climate change and support clean energy. And in a previous role at another organization, the head of ALEC’s Energy Innovation Project, Sarah Hunt, opined in favor of carbon taxes as "a more elegant, cost-efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Read more: California Auto Rule Will Keep Electric Cars Humming Under Trump

Hunt, a lawyer who previously did work for ClearPath, said the ALEC energy project is driven by the belief that free-market values and private innovation "can offer solutions to environmental challenges" more successfully than top-down regulations. "Our values of free markets, limited government and federalism can do a better job of protecting human health and environment than the standard command-and-control, business-as-usual that we have seen in that sector," Hunt said. 

Hunt said carbon taxes aren’t something ALEC members will favor; "it’s a non-starter here," she said. "There are may market-based solutions to our environmental challenges. We can’t get hung up on just one. Innovation is a huge way to solve our problems."

Beyond Tesla’s donation of its showroom for Thursday’s party, the company is not otherwise supporting ALEC or contributing to it, Hunt said. Tesla is not a member, she said.

"Energy should function without subsidies across the board, but that doesn’t mean we’re not really excited and inspired by technological innovation in energy and some of the things Tesla is doing with storage and electricity and new types of cars," Hunt said.

Read more: Shell to Cut Ties to Free-Market Group Over Climate

Mike McKenna, a Virginia-based GOP strategist and energy lobbyist, said he fears Tesla’s involvement -- however limited -- and the creation of the Energy Innovation Project "will both lead to unfortunate deterioration of what has been a very strong focus at ALEC -- keeping energy affordable and abundant and trusting consumers more than government."

The move comes as some conservatives -- including lawmakers on Capitol Hill and lobbyists involved in ALEC -- worry about growing support for putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions, particularly if Congress overhauls the tax code. Several large integrated oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp., now support a revenue-neutral carbon tax, which could be a potent replacement source of revenue if lawmakers try to lower the overall corporate tax rate.

— With assistance by Dana Hull

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