In an example of how secret deals lead to the worst optics ever, today we learn that the Sierra Club took about $26 million dollars over the course of three years from a natural-gas company all while talking up natural gas as a clean alternative to coal. Time magazine, which first reported the up-until-now secret donation to the environmental group, notes that gifts between 2007 and 2010 from the natural gas industry (mostly from the CEO of a company called Chesapeake Energy) came with no strings attached. But that didn't make Michael Brune, the club's executive director since 2010, any more comfortable with how the deal might look from the outside, pushing the board of directors to stop accepting the donations. "The size and secrecy of surrounding [sic.] gifts has prevented us from having an open and candid relationship with our supporters." he wrote the board.
Predictably, Brune is making that argument in public today as the Sierra Club tries to spin Time's story, emphasizing in a blog post that the club started turning down the money on its own, writing, "Have you ever had to turn away millions of dollars? It sounds crazy, but here's why the Sierra Club chose to do exactly that." But that doesn't make us much more comfortable with reading stories about how the Sierra Club's executive director before Brune, Carl Pope, and that natural-gas CEO Aubrey McClendon held events and toured the country to promote natural gas over coal.