BIG SOLAR III: PAC Funnels Cronies’ Money to Candidates

In two previous articles (Part I, Part II), we examined how Republican political consultants in North Carolina have pushed the agenda of Big Solar – the solar power companies and their millionaire owners — in order to protect renewable power source mandates, thus driving up electricity bills and hampering the economy.In part one of this series, we took a first look at these consultants, who created a business model that involves advising GOP legislators to take up the cause of more government mandates, political favoritism and higher electric bills by opposing any bill that would have frozen Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS) mandates at current levels or roll back subsidies for the solar industry.

The political operatives have been working at their plan of co-opting conservatives for more than a year, having found a way to profit from the wealth of the Left’s environmental mega-fund – underwritten by the likes of Tom Steyer, George Soros and multitudes of unidentified donors (including Russian money funding environmental groups, according to media reports) – while at the same time being paid by purportedly right-of-center candidates for their consulting services.

Part two of the series explored the web of organizations pushing for solar energy in North Carolina, including three nonprofits and one political action committee (PAC) set up by the Republican political operatives. They are: the North Carolina Clean Energy Business Alliance (NCCEBA) and its Political Action Committee (NCCEBA PAC); the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA); and Conservatives for Clean Energy. We also attempted to decipher NCCEBA PAC’s campaign finance reports filed with the State Board of Elections since February 2013. We found the reports to be full of errors and inconsistencies and ultimately extremely difficult to understand and follow.

In part three, we will look to highlight one of Big Solar’s key channels for spending on political campaigns – and what Big Solar’s success would do to North Carolina.The focus will be on the NCCEBA PAC. Its finance reports provide a revealing look at how contributions made to the PAC ultimately found their way into political campaign coffers before the 2014 election. According to the summary page of the last amended report filed by the Fourth Quarter 2014 Amended of 2014 (10/19/2014 through 12/31/2014), it had $11,861.39 cash on hand at the beginning of the fourth quarter reporting period and $10,578.72 on hand at the end of the reporting period.

Using the reports listed on the State Board of Elections website, we found the amount of contributions to the PAC from individuals to be $77,644.75.Who is contributing to this PAC? Are these average people who just want to save the planet? Not exactly. Of the NCCEBA PAC Contributors during the 2014 election cycle, 121 worked directly with the solar/energy industry. These contributors hold a wide range of titles and occupations, including owner, president, partner and sales manager. Of the other 46 individuals who did not willingly associate with the solar/energy industry, eight identified themselves as attorneys and five as consultants. The remaining contributors identified themselves as CEOs, CPAs, presidents, and project and district managers working for various companies, most of whom would likely benefit from the success of the highly subsidized solar industry.

Since conservatives don’t typically receive funding from environmental activist groups, it’s interesting to note that the NCCEBA PAC’s disbursements show Republicans received 81 percent of the total. Republican candidates/committees received $53,750 from the NCCEBA PAC, while Democratic candidates/committees received $12,750. Of the 47 NCCEBA PAC contributions, 35 were Republican candidates or committees and 12 were associated with the Democratic Party. One candidate received more PAC money than any other, with a total of four $1,000 contributions — Speaker of the House Tim Moore.Undeniably, the “real money” bankrolling the radical environmental agenda comes from a cadre of radical foundations and elite activist organizations.

Consider, for example, a $350,000 grant made to Conservatives for Clean Energy/NC Sustainable Energy Association in 2014 by the left-leaning Energy Foundation. The Energy Foundation is the largest recipient of grants from the Sea Change Foundation, which in turn relies on funding from a foreign company with undisclosed donors.That was just one contribution to the cause, but it is five times the $66,500 in contributions the NCCEBA PAC paid out to a select group of legislators. While one contribution of $350,000 makes the PAC’s contributions look less significant, in fact the PAC can contribute directly to a political campaign, whereas a nonprofit organization is prohibited from contributing directly to partisan candidates and committees. (But a nonprofit can legally subsidize a related PAC, as it appears the NCCEBA did with its PAC.)

Given that radical left-wing environmental funders historically do not see value in giving to right-of-center candidates, why would this PAC choose to bankroll a group of Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly?A March 16, 2015 article in American Spectator sums up environmental activists’ strategy and reveals it is working in other states also:

“Progressives have for years been laying the groundwork to co-opt conservatives on energy policy, paying existing right-of-center groups to help them communicate with the rest, creating new organizations and heading them with a conservative or two for appearances, and ultimately using the jargon of markets and freedom in the service of cronyism.”

In 2014, the same year Conservatives for Clean Energy was created, the Left spent millions of dollars in the Tar Heel State in the form of TV and radio ads and direct mail to defeat Republican legislators and the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. Two national radical environmental activist groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) (the nation’s largest environmental non-profit law firm) and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), spent more than $3 million to defeat six Republican North Carolina legislators.When the environmental machine moves into North Carolina in advance of the 2016 election to target certain Republican legislators, the governor and even the U.S. Senate nominee, will the “conservative” consultants continue to work for both sides? Unlike in 2014, will the renewable energy “conservative” legislators step up to the aid of their fellow legislators who are targets of one of the most powerful and well-funded political machines in the world?

Perhaps the better question is: What do the people of North Carolina have to look forward to if we continue to offer Big Solar a steady supply of tax subsidies at the taxpayers’ expense? Maybe we should look to Germany, the country considered the global leader in solar power. In 2013, Spiegel Online International reported it was becoming apparent how “renewable energy subsidies redistribute money from the poor to the more affluent.” The publication gave the following example to illustrate this regressive aspect of Germany’s green energy system: “When someone living in a small rental apartment subsidizes a homeowner’s roof-mounted solar panels through his electricity bill.”

Liberals and, unfortunately, now some “conservatives,” will argue that the expense to the taxpayers to subsidize solar power is minimal, but the same article explained how the cost for residential electricity had skyrocketed in Germany and that, in 2013, “more than 300,000 households a year are seeing their power shut off because of unpaid bills.”That could be a preview of what happens in North Carolina, if Big Solar and the political insiders it employs get their way. In addition to raising electric bills for consumers, the higher rates brought about due to renewable mandates make us less competitive for landing big industrial plants like the Volvo or Mercedes plants that choose South Carolina over North Carolina. North Carolina is the only state in the Southeastern U.S. to have Renewable Portfolio Standards. According to the Institute for Energy Research, states that have such mandates have higher electricity prices than states that don’t. As electricity rates increase due to the renewable mandates and subsidies, North Carolina will likely see more large employers pass over our state in search of cheaper electric bills.This article first appeared the Civitas Institute’s website on May 21, 2015.