Conservative Clean Energy Guru Will Help Vulnerable Republicans

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Conservative philanthropist Jay Faison announced a $1 million digital ad campaign on Tuesday promoting clean energy to Republicans, a mission he acknowledges offers a narrow window of opportunity.

The opportunity may be narrow, but his support could make a big difference in the campaign coffers of vulnerable congressional Republicans such as Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio or Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. His clean energy effort also carries a distinctly different message from that of the GOP base in this election — it focuses on politically viable environmental policies.

ClearPath, a private foundation that Faison spent $175 million to launch, will run several online ads in this election cycle with tag lines including, “The liberals have misled you. Clean energy is conservative.”

The group is opening a Washington, D.C., office that will house four to six employees, led by Zak Baig, a former majority staff director for Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). Together, the group’s lobbying and nonprofit wings aim to raise $7 million to $10 million to support Republicans who back clean energy.

The group’s mission has a narrow scope, Faison said. There are a lot of things it won’t be doing. It won’t raise enough money to make a difference in the presidential race, but it can make a difference in congressional races in small or mid-level media markets.

The conservative campaign also won’t focus on more liberal environmentalists’ bread and butter issues, such as wind and solar power. Instead, Faison’s group will support measures that are easier for conservatives to embrace, such as relicensing nuclear facilities, promoting carbon capture and storage technology, and cutting red tape on hydropower.

The group also won’t run negative ads against fellow Republicans, even those who don’t believe climate change exists. “We’re kind of a one-trick pony,” he said. “This is our issue, and we’ll support people that support conservative clean energy. And we don’t have to agree on climate change.”

Faison praised Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) for his stance on energy, but admitted that “the polling doesn’t seem to support him right now.” His superPAC goal of raising $5 million for campaign contributions isn’t enough to change that. As such, the group will focus on congressional races.

“Five million isn’t a lot of money in a presidential race, but it’s a whole lot of money in a secondary market congressional race,” Faison said. “And there’s a lot of those races going on now. A lot of those races are very important in who’s going to control Congress.”

Faison would not say which congressional candidates ClearPath will support. He did, however, point to Republicans who signed House and Senate measures acknowledging climate change. The Senate measure garnered support from several vulnerable Republicans including Ayotte and Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois.

The House resolution on climate change was signed by 11 Republicans, including Reps. Bob Dold of Illinois and Carlos Curbelo of Florida, who face difficult re-election battles, and retiring Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), who leaves an open swing district.

Faison also praised Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) for her work on the wide-ranging energy bill that’s stuck on the Senate floor. Faison and Murkowski co-authored a January New York Times op-ed calling on President Obama to focus on boosting hydropower.

He gave high marks to Portman for his contributions to the energy bill on efficiency standards. Portman faces a tough re-election campaign this year against former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat. Murkowski has an easier path to re-election.

Faison is also playing the long game. He says his environmentally moderate positions are as important to the future of the Republican Party as they are to the environment. He repeated House Speaker Paul Ryan’s mantra that the GOP must be a “proposition party” rather than an “opposition party.” For Republicans to win over key voting demographics, including millennials and suburban women, they will have to take a more proactive position on clean energy, he said.

Morning Consult polling has confirmed that young voters and women are especially concerned about the environment. Only 24 percent of women say that the United States should focus on energy production, even if it harms the environment. By contrast, 34 percent of men favor energy production over the environment. Similarly, just 23 percent of voters between 18 and 29 lean toward energy production over the environment, while 34 percent of voters over 65 are in that camp.

Morning Consult