What if there were a self-proclaimed conservative who lobbied lawmakers and used his nonprofit foundation to fund and make left-wing environmental policy a standard part of the conservative political narrative? There already is—meet Jay Faison and the ClearPath Foundation. They are quietly selling left-wing environmental policies—that is, more regulations that drive up the cost of certain types of energy—as “free market” ideas.
Faison is the president of ClearPath, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that funds research to turn a left-wing talking point—that the world faces grave danger from man-made climate change—into a central plank of the Republican Party’s platform. The North Carolina businessman, his policy analysts in North Carolina and Washington, DC, and lobbyists for ClearPath’s 501(c)(4) advocacy wing, have ties to leftist organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and the Sierra Club Foundation.
Nonetheless, Faison professes to be conservative:
I believe in school choice, tort reform, balanced budgets, and small government. I believe we need a health care policy that doesn’t cost businesses like mine millions of dollars. I support a free enterprise system unshackled from bad regulation and big labor unions . . .
He is ostensibly committed to the Republican Party, seeming to refuse to work with Democratic legislators to address his agenda. And he is no friend of certain environmentalists. For instance, Faison has criticized the League of Conservation Voters, which has close ties with left-leaning and far-left groups including NEO Philanthropy, NextGen Climate Action, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). ClearPath also advocates for nuclear energy, a form of energy the League of Conservation Voters and many other environmentalists denounce. Faison condemned the League, saying it “is very harmful to responsible energy solutions, and I would say it’s harmful for our democracy. I just can’t be more negative on them.”
On the other hand, Faison has a funny way of demonstrating his support for free enterprise and distaste for bad regulations. His many ties to non-conservative groups include his service for over a decade on the board of directors of a regional council of the left-wing advocacy group Environmental Defense Action Fund, and briefly, in 2010, on the organization’s National Council. He also served on the board of EcoAmerica, a 501(c)(3) environmental nonprofit that’s received $3 million in grants from the left-wing MacArthur Foundation since 2012 to support research on climate change. Faison was a panelist at the Future of Energy Summit in 2015 and 2016, along with speakers such as Al Gore and Debbie Dooley, a prominent Republican activist widely considered an ideological sellout, particularly on environmental policy.
And for a group eager to distance itself from the environmentalist Left, ClearPath’s board of directors reveals some disturbing connections to those of the far Left who shut down healthy scientific skepticism and debate over climate change.
ClearPath Foundation’s executive director is Richard Powell, who earns over $355,000 annually. He served on the board of the Circumpolar Conservation Union (a partner of the left-wing National Resources Defense Council), collaborated with environmentalist groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund and National Resources Defense Council in conferences and panels, and spoke at conferences hosted by the left-leaning think tank Aspen Institute in 2009, 2011, and 2017.
Another example is ClearPath’s board director, Robert Perkowitz, who served on the Environmental Defense Fund’s board, the Sierra Club’s National Advisory Council, and as a Trustee of the Sierra Club Foundation. In addition, Perkowitz is the founder and CEO of EcoAmerica—to which ClearPath donated nearly $260,000 in 2015 alone.
Such connections have not gone unnoticed by other Republicans connected to the energy lobby. According to The Hill,
Mike McKenna, a Republican strategist and energy lobbyist, doubts Faison’s commitment to conservative principles, saying he doesn’t have much of a history with the GOP. “Worrying about how the Republicans are perceived is kind of an odd thing to do for a guy who has very nearly zero history with the party. . . . If anything, he has a lot more history with the Environmental Defense Fund and EcoAmerica than he does with Republicans, which would make normal people wonder which side he is really on.”
Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, agrees: “There is a second-order irony in that green energy companies and Jay Faison’s Clear Path Foundation aren’t attacked by the left for belonging to [the conservative group] ALEC…Everyone knows that they are infiltrators trying to subvert ALEC.” (ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that brings together many conservative and libertarian local and state legislators with policy writers to work on crafting model legislation.)
ClearPath’s financial ties are also worth noting. In 2014, the Foundation for the Carolinas, a donor-advised fund provider, gave almost $22.5 million to ClearPath Foundation. (A donor-advised fund is a kind of charitable savings account, where donors make a tax-deductible contribution to an account with the provider and then recommend the provider make grants from the account to other nonprofit organizations. Donor-advised funds also obscure the identity of the donor, making them a convenient way to give anonymously to public policy causes.)
The Foundation for the Carolinas has given large grants to some of the same left-leaning and right-of-center organizations to which, in turn, ClearPath has funded in its effort to change conservatives’ views on climate change. Such recipients include:, the right-leaning R Street Institute which the website Foundation Search reports has received funding from the leftist pass-through Energy Foundation, Public Welfare Foundation, Hewlett and Packard Foundations, and George Soros’ Foundation to Promote Open Society, the center-right Energy Innovation Reform Project, the nominally right-of-center Niskanen Center, the MacArthur-funded World Resources Institute and EcoAmerica.
Perhaps most puzzling among ClearPath’s financial activities are its transactions in Central American and Caribbean countries. According to the foundation’s federal tax filings from 2014 through 2016, ClearPath has “investment(s) in passive foreign investment companies” in countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, and the Bahamas. Records show they dramatically increased—almost 450 percent!—in those three years, rising from $13.8 million to $75.5 million. Such investments in countries south of America’s southern border are, to say the least, unusual for nonprofits such as the ClearPath Foundation. ClearPath does not merely have its money just sitting around in odd places, however.
It has a large annual budget, and its 501(c)(4) lobbying wing and 527 super PAC (political action committee) have spent thousands of dollars influencing Republicans with their agenda. Campaigning and lobbying for significant federal spending on and involvement in the environmentalist movement is not promoting small government or efficient policy reform, which is, by contrast, the truly conservative way.
ClearPath’s connections to left-wing environmentalist groups and questionable financial expenditures have understandably raised the eyebrows of some conservatives. They are right to be cautious, because ClearPath may be a pseudo-conservative climate alarmist group doing the environmentalist Left’s bidding.
Whatever ClearPath’s intentions may be, conservatives should always beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.