Campaign Finance

Sierra Club pushes wind industry tax credit

Rachael Marcus Jul 31, 2012

The Sierra Club’s nonprofit has released three new ads yesterday targeting Republican congressmen who have opposed renewing a tax credit for the wind energy industry.

The Sierra Club so far has taken aim at six Republicans in its pro-wind campaign: Reps. Bob Latta of Ohio, Blake Farenthold of Texas, Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, Frank Guinta of New Hampshire and Joe Heck of Nevada.

The TV and radio ads are all variations of the same template, calling on the congressmen to “save wind industry jobs” by voting to renew the wind production tax credit. The production tax credit gives owners of renewable energy projects an income tax reduction based on how much electrical output their projects create.

The American Wind Energy Association estimates there are currently 75,000 jobs in the wind industry, 37,000 of which would be at risk if the tax credit expires.

Its renewal has become a hot issue in some states, especially Iowa, thanks to the high number of wind industry jobs in the state. Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has come out against renewing the production tax credit whereas President Barack Obama has said he supports it.

The value of wind energy has been subjected to attacks this year by conservative groups including Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization of state representatives and corporations that has drafted model bills to overturn state laws supporting wind energy.

Both groups are partially funded by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers.

In a confidential memo obtained by The Guardian, a proposal from the ultra-conservative American Tradition Institute, which also has ties to the Koch brothers, proposed a national public relations campaign aimed at discrediting the wind industry’s message.

The group publicly disavowed the proposed campaign, which, according the memo, would include a counterintelligence branch and front businesses to buy ads.

It is unclear how much the Sierra Club has spent on its “Wind Works” ad campaign, which began July 12. Because the ads do not say to “vote for” or “vote against” the congressmen mentioned, they are considered “issue ads” and therefore not reportable to the Federal Election Commission.

The Sierra Club’s super PAC, Sierra Club Independent Action, had $16,000 on hand through the end of June, its most recent FEC report shows. All of its donations in 2012 have come in small amounts, almost all between $250 and $1,500.

The super PAC has also reported spending in favor of Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., who is facing former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, a Republican, in the U.S. Senate election in New Mexico.

The race has attracted more than $2.3 million in outside spending, with environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters battling conservative behemoths American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which support Wilson.

Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic candidate for U.S. House in Hawaii, has also benefitted from Sierra Club Independent Action’s spending. The group has spent $58,000 on direct mail and staff support in favor of the former Hawaii state representative.

In other outside spending news:

  • Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC, released “Olympics” on July 30. The ad extolls Romney’s role as head of the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee in 2002, as the Center reported Monday. The ad features Olympians such as figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi endorsing Romney. The athletes are also donors to the Romney campaign.
  • American Action Network, a conservative nonprofit headed by former Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., aired “Gold,” an Olympic-themed ad that hits at “Illinois liberals” for their position on taxes.
  • The Texas Conservatives Fund, a super PAC backing Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, spent $325,000 on ads two days ahead of today’s GOP Senate runoff in Texas, with Dewhurst, the establishment favorite, facing off against former solicitor general and tea party favorite, Ted Cruz.
  • The pro-Ron Paul super PAC Endorse Liberty spent more than $80,000 on ads supporting Cruz, and Our Country Deserves Better, a super PAC affiliated with the Tea Party Express, spent an additional $5,000 supporting him.
  • Former Missouri State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri, got support from Our Country Deserves Better, which spent $12,000 on ads, and the Now or Never PAC, which spent $6,000 on ad production.
  • Prosperity for Michigan, a super PAC supporting Clark Durant in the GOP U.S. Senate primary in Michigan, reported spending $37,000 on TV ads in favor of Durant, the founder and former CEO of Cornerstone Schools, a group of charter and independent schools in inner-city Detroit.

Correction (July 31, 2012 at 1:30 p.m.): The Sierra Club’s 501(c)(4) organization paid for the wind industry ads, not Sierra Club Independent Action, the super PAC. This article has been updated to reflect this.


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