California Gov. Jerry Brown presides over a two and a half-day environmental confab this week that will highlight the climate change agenda of a handful of government officials — and, perhaps more importantly, deep-pocketed donors.
The Global Climate Action Summit, from Wednesday through Friday, will cost some $10 million — expenses underwritten by private interests pushing for more aggressive government regulation of fossil fuels, according to documents uncovered by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).
Christopher Horner, a CEI fellow who wrote a report released Tuesday, titled “Government for Rent,” contrasted that environmental group-supplied cash with progressive complaints leveled against corporate spending.
He noted that Democratic Party donor Wendy Abrams expressed to then-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman her consternation that ExxonMobil had spent $31 million fighting climate change activism over two decades.
“These people are spending $10 million on a political event over the course of the next two days … This should add some perspective to that,” he told LifeZette.
The 44-page report follows a paper Horner wrote  for the Washington think tank last month, pointing to the cozy relationship between liberal attorneys general and wealthy environmental activists.
In the case of both the attorneys general and the governors, Horner describes an effort to use private money to make an end run around state legislatures to provide privately funded staffers and support operations promoting a climate change agenda.
Documents gathered under open-records requests flesh out the multitude of creative ways in which the environmental activists have provided off-the-books staffers to push the agenda — and raise the profile of politically ambitious politicians.
In addition to Brown (pictured above right), the main beneficiaries have been a pair of governors thought to be mulling presidential campaigns in 2020, Washington’s Jay Inslee (pictured above left) and New York’s Andrew Cuomo (pictured above center).
“The path to the White House goes through the donor base,” Horner said. “And this is where the donor base is … Anyone who sees a president in the mirror is going to have to check this particular box.”
‘Staggering Sums of Money’
As with the attorneys general, according to the report, private interests have pushed the envelope in coming up with ways to funnel private money into government activities.
The report pegs the spending at tens of millions of dollars each year, with $50 million budgeted for 2020.
“It’s the same but different than the attorneys general, in that here we have staggering sums of money; not mere millions but tens of millions for privately funded ‘staff,’” Horner said.
The report describes three basic models:
Model A: donor-funded in-house staff. The governor’s office houses privately funded staffers working side by side with government officials on the public payroll.
The report references documents showing that a private organization called the Hewlett Foundation hired Jonathan Pershing, who had served as a climate change negotiator under President Barack Obama.
Pershing got a budget to place climate and energy policy staff members in the offices of governors who signed on to an organization called the U.S. Climate Alliance (USCA). That group, according to the report, did not exist beyond a website and an executive director.
Instead, the USCA was a pass-through entity that connected money from environmental donors to governors.
“There is no actual entity. Yet they pay people, which is quite a feat when you don’t exist.”
“There is no actual entity,” Horner said. “Yet they pay people, which is quite a feat when you don’t exist.”
Former State Department official Reed Schuler went to work in Inslee’s office, but he was under contract from an environmental group called the World Resources Institute. An email cited by the report from Inslee adviser Chris Davis refers to Schuler as “our refugee from [former Secretary of State John] Kerry’s office at State. Pershing at Hewlett is paying him to work in our shop for 12 months.”
Davis told Pershing in a September 2017 email that his “support for the personnel and the report resources has been crucial.”
Model B: privately funded outside “support functions.” This model involves a privately funded organization serving as a pass-through entity to pay for the governors’ climate change campaign. The report estimates that governors’ staff members have spent hundreds of hours of taxpayer time negotiating with nonprofit groups to place staff in governors’ offices.
CNN founder Ted Turner’s group, the United Nations Foundation (UNF), was the winning applicant for a contract that allowed it to serve as the conduit — while taking a cut — that put private donor money at the disposal of the governors.
The CEI report details a budget of $10 million in donor money for 2018 and $25 million in 2019.
The principals discussed ways of keeping their activities secret from the public. The report states that Alexander Cochran, legal counsel to Cuomo, suggested in July of last year that incorporating the U.S. Climate Alliance might be an effective way to thwart the state’s open records laws.
Model C: donor-funded outside consultants for governors. The USCA governors last year unveiled a glossy report titled “Climate Alliance, 2017 Annual Report, Alliance States Take the Lead.”
The report appears to be authored by the co-chairs. In fact, according to the CEI report, the consultants from an outfit called the Rhodium Group wrote it.
The Rhodium Group, headed by a former climate and energy adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Democratic presidential campaign, told The Washington Times that it did not produce the report.
But the Rhodium executive, Trevor Houser, wrote in August 2017 email, “My understanding is that we are ghost-writing this, and it will be produced/branded as a USCA work product that uses/references Rhodium Group data. Correct?”
The arrangements sparked ethical and legal concerns among some supporters. The CEI report cites an email from Cuomo aide Cochran to Inslee advisers in July 2017. “I am concerned about the branding issue for UNF,” he wrote, referring to the Ted Turner organization.
Cochran wrote that Erin Rogers of Hewlett was “really nervous about parking this at UNF because of the U.N. piece.” The CEI report indicates that likely is a reference to the organization’s mission statement of supporting the United Nations.
“You’ve got tens of millions in special-interest money and open confessions about using nonprofits as pass-throughs,” Horner told LifeZette.