“Today’s environmental groups are simply Democrat political machines with millions of dollars in contributions and expenditures each year for the purpose of raising more money to pursue their agenda,” charges Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who is ranking minority member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and a leading critic of the environmental movement.
Inhofe is no disinterested party in the environmental debate, to be sure, but Big Green environmentalists also see their struggle in partisan terms.
Among the most visible and politically powerful environmental political groups is the League of Conservation Voters political action committee that was founded in 1969 to multiply environmental organizations’ impact on national elections.
The LCV’s board includes representatives from major environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, the Wilderness Society, and the American Conservation Association. Many wealthy individual philanthropists are also board members.
The key political figure on the LCV board is John Podesta, former Clinton chief of staff and Center for American Progress president. John Podesta's brother, Tony Podesta, is described by the Washington Post as a “superlobbyist” whose clients include BP, Sunoco, Marathon Oil, Wal-Mart and coal industry trade groups.
In every election since 1996, the LCV has targeted a “Dirty Dozen” politicians supposedly most unfriendly to Big Green environmentalism. According to Opensecrets.org, the LCV has made more than $10.5 million in political expenditures since 1996.
Despite having a poor transparency record — the LCV was fined $180,000 in 2006 by the Federal Elections Commission for “failure to register with the Commission, abide by contribution limits and prohibitions, and file disclosure reports” — it is a partisan wrecking ball on the campaign trail.
Seventy one of 79 incumbent congressmen LCV has targeted since 1996 were Republicans, and 49 of those targeted were defeated. In 2008, more than 80 percent of LCV-endorsed candidates won. Inhofe, who was targeted in 2008, was among the very few GOPers to survive the experience.
The LCV also works the grass roots, having supported more than 1,500 candidates at the state and local levels. Some 85 percent of those candidates won in 2008.
The LCV’s election successes make it a powerful legislative lobby. Competitive Enterprise Institute scholar Angela Logomasini evaluated the 735 congressional votes used by the LCV to rate senators and representatives.
Between 1971 and 1994, when Democrats controlled Congress, 51 percent of LCV-endorsed legislation was passed. When Republicans took over, the LCV’s winning percentage dropped to 28 percent between 1994 and 2004.
CORRECTION: The article originally misidentified Tony Podesta, instead of John Podesta, as being on the Board of the League of Conservation Voters.