According to American University Professor Matthew Nisbet, in 2009 environmental groups spent $394 million on climate change and energy policy efforts such as promoting cap and trade. Opposition groups spent $259 million. Information like this helps place the reports of conservative spending, including that of Charles and David Koch, in perspective. Without this, we’re left with the one-sided reports from Greenpeace and the New Yorker magazine, in which numbers are mentioned without — or with little — context.
Nesbit’s report is Climate Shift: Clear Vision for the Next Decade of Public Debate.
The report also looks at expenditures on lobbying. In this area, it’s less clear how much was spent lobbying for or against cap and trade legislation, as companies and organizations report their total spending on all lobbying activity, not the amount spent on specific bills. In this light, Nisbet reports that “environmental groups were able to forge a network of organizations that spent a combined $229 million on lobbying across all issues. In comparison, the network of prominent opponents of cap and trade legislation spent $272 million lobbying across all issues.”
Spending on elections is mixed. Considering contributions to members of Congress, proponents of cap and trade legislation outspent opponents. But in independent expenditures, the situation is reversed. But on Proposition 23 in California, environmental groups spent the most.
In conclusion to its chapter on spending, the report states: “… propelled by a wealthy donor base and key alliances with corporations and other organizations, the environmental movement appears to have closed the financial gap with its opponents among conservative groups and industry associations. Indeed, the effort to pass cap and trade legislation may have been the best-financed political cause in American history. The effort also demonstrates not only the vast revenue base and organizational capacity of the environmental movement, but also the movement’s enhanced ability to coordinate activities among its constituent members and to build partnerships.”
Climate Change Advocacy: Revenues, Spending, and Activities
By Matthew Nisbit
After the failure of the Senate cap and trade bill in August 2010, many commentators blamed the bill’s demise on the massive spending by fossil fuel companies, industry associations and their conservative allies. Others, however, noted that environmental groups—joined by dozens of leading companies and organizations—had devoted record amounts of financial resources in an effort to pass the bill. As an unnamed Obama administration official said about environmental groups, “They spent like $100 million and they weren’t able to get a single Republican convert on the bill.”
To better understand the influence of spending in the cap and trade debate, in this chapter I review the nature, composition and funding sources of the U.S. environmental movement and compare these factors to the opposing coalition of conservative think tanks and industry associations. Then, analyzing data compiled from tax returns, annual reports, and other sources, I systematically compare the revenue and forms of spending by both sides in the debate.
Though most environmental groups are limited in how much money they can devote to direct lobbying, in the debate over cap and trade, they were able to spend heavily on efforts to educate the public and policymakers on the need for a mandatory emissions cap, hiring the country’s top political consultants. They also invested in partnerships with corporations and other organizations in a strategy aimed at counter-balancing the amount spent on lobbying by opposing industry associations and companies.
As the analysis indicates, the environmental movement has made sizable gains in closing the spending gap with their conservative and industry opponents. Indeed, the effort to pass cap and trade legislation may have been the best-financed political cause in American history. The effort also demonstrates not only the vast revenue base and organizational capacity of the environmental movement, but also the movement’s enhanced ability to coordinate activities among its constituent members and to build alliances.
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