Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Problem with Big Green: When Your Deal Breakers are Weak, So is Your Leverage

The Hill has an article up today about how green groups are supporting a number of Senate candidates (or incumbents) who support the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has raised funds for Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), Senate candidate Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA), and Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC).

Here is what NRDC had to say:
“It’s public record that we’ve already supported candidates who have said that they are in support of the Keystone pipeline,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund. “The action fund has made the strategic conclusion in this cycle to focus on climate change, and specifically the president’s climate plan.” ....
“As long as they are not preventing the president from acting,” Taylor-Miesle said of those lawmakers.
Their deal breaker is "preventing the president from acting." They don't require anything proactive of their endorsees, just "not getting in the way too directly." 
If their focus is climate change, though, then they should not be supporting anyone who voted for the Keystone XL pipeline, which is not reconcilable with a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Supporting Keystone XL might not be "preventing the president from acting," but it is certainly undermining professed goals.

The only Senate vote from this Congress that they apparently view as a deal breaker is Inhofe's budget amendment blocking the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. That means that only Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Mark Pryor (D-AR) would be beyond the pale to them.
A vote for the Hoeven amendment (Keystone XL) in the Senate should be just as much of a deal breaker.

The Sierra Club made the following statement:
“When we consider supporting candidates, we look at their record as a whole from where they stand on protecting our lands and wildlife to stopping Keystone XL to advancing clean energy,” Melissa Williams, the Sierra Club’s national political director, said in a statement.

Williams cited Hagan as a candidate who Sierra Club supports because of her record on environmental issues, despite her support for Keystone XL.
But is she worth their time and money? 
If, as an interest group, you want to be effective, to have leverage, you need to employ both carrot and stick. You use the carrot when legislators vote well, and you use the stick when they don't. However, you can also employ neither--when someone is not good enough for a carrot but not bad enough for a stick. If you aren't willing to hold high standards and keep this option open, then the politicians have no reason to listen to you (especially against the louder voices coming from the polluters). They need to know that they have to win your support. They should not take it for granted.

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) scorecard is not perfect, but it is a useful tool in evaluating the environmental record of members of Congress. Green groups should only be endorsing and fundraising for Senators or representatives with LCV scores with over 90%. I think that is a clear, simple, and strong benchmark. Hagan falls short with 84%, Braley with 88%, and Begich with 77%.
If these groups wanted to fund candidates in seats in which Democrats need to firm up their support, they could fund Al Franken (94%), Jeff Merkley (100%), and Jeanne Shaheen (95%).

They could also support Shenna Bellows's candidacy in Maine against Susan Collins. Collins has the highest LCV score of any Republican at 67%, but that's still only a D. Bellows, who has already been endorsed by local environmental leaders in Maine, would be a far more dependable vote for the environmental community, and she has come out against the Keystone XL pipeline (which Collins, of course, supports).

They could also use that money in House races or gubernatorial races.

Big Green groups are basically willing to donate to any Democrat whose "ear" they can get, who invites them to the table (even if it's just the kiddie table), who allows them to get their foot in the door. That's fine as a way to make voting decisions in close races. But for time and money? You should expect more.

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