A $10 Million Pledge to Push Republicans On Climate Change

Republican donor launches nonprofit to prevent GOP from losing climate ground to Democrats.

A North Carolina Republican donor is pledging to spend $10 million through a secretive spending group to push the right to act on climate change and clean energy.

Charlotte entrepreneur Jay Faison said that the climate change discussion has been owned by the left, while Republicans have been largely silent about solutions. Faison thinks Republicans risk losing ground on the issue in a general election—and he's ready to spend to make sure that doesn't happen.

Faison is pledging to put $10 million into a 501(c)(4), a nonprofit group that can do some political advocacy work without disclosing its donors. There's no timeline for the launch of the group, but paperwork has been filed. That's on top of the $165 million Faison has put into his ClearPath Foundation, which started last year to promote clean energy and climate change, according to a spokesman for the foundation.

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Republicans have been either silent or downright unfriendly when it comes to the issue of climate change. Of the major presidential candidates, most question the scientific consensus that humans contribute to climate change and are iffy on how to address it.

In an interview with National Journal, Faison said if Republicans won't talk about climate change, they risk getting left behind by Democrats.

"Millennials especially want to see forward looking leadership that acknowledges the realities of today," he said. "I think it's a brand issue. How our party and our presidential candidate talks about it will have a significant impact over voter perception, and I think the Democratic candidates know this."

Faison has not endorsed a candidate yet, but has given $50,000 to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's Right to Rise PAC and $25,000 to Sen. Lindsey Graham's campaign, according to a ClearPath spokesman. Both Bush and Graham have said they believe climate change is happening and that it should be addressed.

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As for the new group, Faison said no endorsement or spending strategy has been set, but, "it will reward thoughtful response to the issue."

In an interview with CNN in Iowa this weekend, Graham said that if elected president, "we're going to address climate change, CO2 emissions in a business friendly way." It was a move, Faison said, that "showed a lot of guts" and is likely to cost Graham votes in red-state primaries.

Come the general election, however, Faison said he thinks there will be more room for Republicans to maneuver on climate change, especially facing a Democrat guaranteed to have a stronger record. He's hopeful that a Republican could draw a line between the market-based solutions more popular on the right and the regulatory regime favored by Democrats.

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He says he's getting a positive reception from "people that are tired of the old arguments," claiming that more Republican donors may come out of the woodwork with climate change as a wedge issue, as opposed to megadonors such as the Koch brothers, who question climate action.

"I think they're looking for a new, fresher argument," Faison said. "We could probably agree that a more advanced energy system is better for America even if climate change were not an issue at all, and that's not a bad place to start when you're talking to any Republican. Or some Republicans, I should say."

Faison has given to some Republicans unfriendly to climate action, including $2,300 each in 2008 to the Senate campaigns of Mississippi's Roger Wicker and majority leader Mitch McConnell, who's leading the charge to kill the EPA's climate regulations. That's not a move he plans to make again.

"That was a long time ago and no, I would not give to somebody who's fighting against this issue," Faison said.

His $10 million pledge, he said, would act as "the heater in the swimming pool to warm the water," but it would take more to spur a grand shift by the party. Until then, he said, he's just hoping to avoid political blowback.

"Everybody's quiet or afraid to lose customers and voters because it's politically divisive, but that will break and then it becomes a defining issue," he said. "There are a lot of interests dug in on this and they'll do what they need to do to try to keep it a politically divisive debate."