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What is the ‘Conservative Energy Network’ and Why is it Backed by Leftist Funders?


This article originally appeared in the Washington Examiner on July 10, 2019.

Organizations that market themselves as conservative while pushing left-of-center energy policies with financial support from left-leaning foundations have been showing up in force on Capitol Hill.

The self-described Conservative Energy Network, an umbrella group for environmental activists who favor “clean energy solutions” in the form of taxpayer-funded wind and solar boondoggles, have been working to make inroads with conservative audiences. Most recently, network members took part in a forum on “Real Clean Energy and Climate Change Solutions” held in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center on June 19. The forum was organized by another group called “Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions” or CRES, which “received $1 million in total startup funding from center-left groups, including the Advocacy Fund (the advocacy arm of the left-of-center Tides Foundation) and the Trust for Energy Innovation,” according to Influence Watch, a project of the Capital Research Center.

While these groups are certainly entitled to advocate for more government regulations and higher energy costs in a free and open forum, their claim to conservatism should not go unchallenged in light of where they get their funding.

The Conservative Energy Network says on its website that it was founded in 2016 “by conservatives, for conservatives, to support and connect state-based conservative clean energy and energy efficiency organizations throughout the nation.”

But network members such as Conservatives for Clean Energy have received critical financial support from the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation, a major donor to leftist environmental causes. A report from the Civitas Institute, a North Carolina free-market advocacy group, details some of this funding. Other network members include The Western Way, based in Denver, the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum, and the Ohio Conservative Energy Forum. The Christian Coalition had been listed as a member until recently.

The Conservative Energy Network is itself a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonpartisan organization of state lawmakers devoted to limited government. Since the network constantly peddles green energy schemes under the guise of conservatism, ALEC members should know what makes the network tick.

Foundation records and IRS 990 forms show that the Conservative Energy Network received $89,000 from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in 2017 and $100,000 in 2018, $100,000 from the Turner Foundation in 2018, $200,000 from the McKnight Foundation in 2017, and $20,000 from the Argosy Foundation in 2017. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund also made an additional donation to the network for $150,000 this past April that can be found here.

Take a hard look at what these foundations advocate and it becomes clear they are devoted to undermining cheap, affordable energy sources while expanding the size and influence of government.

Why would an organization that markets itself as conservative receive the backing of so many liberal foundations?

Hayden Ludwig, an investigator with the Capital Research Center, has some insight. He sees an effort from environmentalists to burrow in with pliable Republicans who seek cover on questions of climate change.

“These groups want to pretend to be bipartisan, but their funding pretty much comes from all left-wing groups,” he said in an interview. “In some cases, a group may have a Republican figurehead in a prominent position, but when you look at the rest of their staff and their funding it’s pretty much all left-of-center.”

Ludwig co-authored an extensive piece on the “Eco-Right” that details the connection between groups that feign conservatism while drawing financial support from the likes of individual leftist donors like George Soros and well-endowed entities like the Energy Foundation.

A favorite policy pitch on the part of the “Eco-Right” is to push for a carbon tax as a free market substitute for government regulations. Ludwig and his colleagues, caution against buying into this idea. “The tax can only be called ‘free market’ in the sense that it sets up a phony market based around a kind of commodity — carbon dioxide emissions — and forces companies to work within it or face heavy fines from the federal government,” they explain in their “Eco-Right” report.

Ludwig and crew also make the powerful point that, “since carbon taxes target emissions from natural gas, oil, and coal, however — fuels that provide 85 percent of the country’s energy — the burden of such a policy would necessarily fall on American families.”

Not every group that’s part of the Conservative Energy Network or that can be identified as part of the “Eco-Right” have explicitly taken a stance on the carbon tax. But they provide a platform to those that do, and the end result of their efforts could be a new tax imposed on every human activity imaginable.

Kevin Mooney

Kevin Mooney, a frequent CRC contributor, is an investigative reporter for The Daily Signal.
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