Elite climate donors raised at least $45 million for Biden

Plus, a list of all Biden's climate-focused bundlers—and an extended intro about Married at First Sight.

Do y’all have a show you like to watch when you want to completely tune out of work? For me, it’s Married at First Sight. It’s this absolutely bonkers show where participants legally marry a stranger. Nothing could be more divorced (zing!) from politics or the climate crisis. Or so I thought.

Last night, I was watching the reunion episode of Season 11, and host Kevin Frazier asked one of the show’s participants, Bennett Kirschner, what he’d been up to since the season finale. Kirschner answered: “I’m now a solar consultant. I’m helping people switch over to solar power in their homes.” Frazier smiled. “You even found the perfect job for you,” he replied. “No fossil fuels, dammit. We’re gonna—solar energy!”

I was stunned. Did the host of a Lifetime reality show reunion special host just casually utter the phrase “no fossil fuels, dammit” on national television? I hit rewind, and indeed, the host of a Lifetime reality show reunion special had just said the words “no fossil fuels, dammit” on national television.

Frazier’s remark may have been silly and off-hand, but the fact that he could make it—the fact that he even thought of making it—speaks volumes about how far the average American has come in understanding the root cause of the climate crisis. That understanding is prompting a new era in American politics: one in which questioning the fossil fuel industry’s existence is commonplace.

The fossil fuel industry spent the last 50 years downplaying climate science with the specific goal of preventing this era. But now it’s here, Presented by Lifetime—and it will likely accelerate once Joe Biden takes the White House in January.

Whether and to what degree such antagonism continues, however, depends on who is given power in a Biden administration. And who is given power so often traces back to who has given large amounts of money. So today, we’re going to look at the role large climate-motivated donors played in electing Joe Biden—both to show the growing power of clean energy and climate donors as a political force, and to see who might hold influence in the coming administration.

The four horsemen of preventing the apocalypse

Compared to the 2016 cycle, large-dollar climate-motivated fundraising for the 2020 presidential election “was like night and day,” said Lise Strickler a founding member of the Three Cairns Group, an investment firm focused on decarbonization. “I would say it’s a huge multiplier of dollars.”

Strickler was part of a group called Climate Leaders for Biden (CLFB), one of four major climate-focused fundraising apparatuses for Biden this cycle. In a July article, E&E News described CLFB as “an ad hoc group of deep-pocketed donors,” which at the time had brought in “more than $12 million for Biden's campaign.”

In the end, CLFB raised more than $17 million for Biden, the group told HEATED. It was raised over the course of five virtual fundraising events.

One of those fundraising events was in partnership with Clean Energy for Biden (CEFB), the second major climate-oriented fundraising apparatus.

Unlike CLFB, which is made up of donors generally concerned about climate change, CEFB is made up of “renewable energy industry professionals, advocates, and the broader clean energy community,” said Nathan Wyeth, CEFB’s co-chair and a former director at solar energy company Sunrun. “It is specifically an industry perspective.”

Wyeth says CEFB brought in an additional $3.2 million for Biden over the course of more than 100 virtual events this election. This means, obviously, that CEFB’s donors are much smaller-pocketed than CLFB’s (The group now has 11,000 members, Wyeth said, up from the 4,500 members The New York Times reported in August).

But like Strickler, Wyeth said the level of mobilization from his industry was starkly different than it was in 2016. “There were some clean energy fundraisers for Hillary, but it didn’t grow as large as it was this cycle,” he said. “I probably donated but I wasn’t as involved.”

The third climate-focused fundraising arm for Biden was a loose group of C-level executives from some of the largest renewable energy companies in the U.S., who held a few of their own fundraisers for separate from CEFB, according to Sheldon Kimber, the CEO of utility scale renewables developer Intersect Power.

Kimber, who is part of CEFB but also involved in organizing the outside events, would not disclose how much was raised or who was there. But he said they were unlike any other for his industry.

“The typical fundraising approach from renewables and clean energy has been the long-tail, small-dollar, many-people type approach,” he said. “For one of the first times in my experience … you did see senior leadership from big companies in the industry coming together, using their networks, working frankly in unison … I don’t think that element of renewable energy fundraising has never been as organized as it was during their election cycle.”

The final major large-dollar climate-fundraising apparatus came from The LCV Victory Fund, a super PAC run by the League of Conservation Voters. The LCV Victory fund also ran a climate-focused donation program called GiveGreen alongside the Natural Resources Defense Council’s political arm and Tom Steyer’s NextGen America.

With a total of $56 million raised and $47 million spent, the LCV Victory fund was the 10th biggest super PAC this election cycle in terms of expenditures, and ninth-biggest in terms of fundraising. It raised nearly double what it raised in 2018 midterms, and nearly triple what it raised in 2016.

The LCV Victory Fund raised $56 million in 2020, $29 million in 2018, and $19.6 million in 2016, according to Open Secrets. Source: Center for Responsive Politics.

Most donations to the LCV Victory fund come directly from LCV, though contributors includes some big-money and dark-money donors, too. For example, OpenSecrets shows that the dark money Sixteen Thirty Fund gave $6.8 million to LVC Victory fund last year, while Michael Bloomberg gave $2.5 million in late September.

Other large-dollar contributors include real estate billionaire Eli Broad, Wal-mart billionaire Samuel Walton, and Robert Grantham, which is not a Downton Abbey character but in fact the real name of Jeremy Grantham, the investor who pledged to devote 98 percent of his net worth ($1 billion) to fighting the climate crisis.

Not all of the LCV Victory Fund’s money went to re-electing Biden, though. According to E&E News, the group invested more than $22 million in the presidential contest. That included national ad campaigns hitting Big Oil and Trump for making climate change worse, among other things.

Assuming conservatively that the large-dollar renewable industry fundraisers brought in as much as CEFB did—and assuming none of these donations overlap in any way—that means climate-motivated big dollar fundraisers brought in at least $45 million for Biden this cycle.

And that’s not even counting the bundlers.

The climate-focused people bundling for Biden

Right before Election Day, the Biden campaign released a list of 817 people who have helped raise at least $100,000 apiece to support Biden's presidential run.

HEATED went through the list to find climate- or clean energy-focused elite bundlers.

It’s unclear exactly how much these people raised for Biden over the $100,000 mark. In addition, some of the fundraising by these bundlers likely overlaps with CLFB and CEFB fundraising. But the list of names is good to keep in mind once Biden’s appointments start coming through.

Here it is, the climate- and clean energy-focused people who helped make it rain on Biden’s campaign:

  • Alexander Laskey, founder and executive chair at Rewiring America. Board member, Arcadia.

  • Sheldon Kimber, founder and CEO of Intersect Power.

  • Kiran Jain, former Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Oakland.

  • Brandon Hurlbut, senior Advisor to NGP Energy Technology Partners III, senior Advisor to Aligned Climate Capital. Serves on the Evergreen Action Advisory Board.

  • Sherri Goodman, senior Fellow at the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program and Polar Institute.

  • John D. Goldman, trustee of the Goldman Environmental Foundation. Board member, Wildlife Conservation Society, Trust for Public Land.

  • Atticus Francken, investor at Econergy. 

  • Eric Dayton, co-founder of Askov Finlayson, a climate positive outdoor clothing company.

  • Dayna Bochco, LA-based environmental activist, co-chair of NRDC Los Angeles Leadership Council, California Coastal Commission member.

  • Philip Angelides, president and owner of Riverview Capital Investments, which focuses on developing sustainable urban communities and clean energy projects.

  • Daniel Abbasi, former director at cleantech private equity firm MissionPoint Capital Partners.

  • Giulia Marchiori, The Climate Leadership Initiative's (CLI) London-based philanthropy advisor.

  • Ginger Lew - Managing Director of Cube Hydro Partners, a $700 million fund that invests in hydropower projects in the United States.

  • Derek Lemke-Von Ammon, senior advisor with EIG Global Energy Partners, a leading provider of institutional capital to the energy sector globally.

  • Laura Shell, advisory board, The Trust for Public Land.

  • Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, former Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy.

  • Michael Skelly, founder and president of Clean Line Energy.

  • Erich Stephens, former Chief Development Officer and a founding principal of Vineyard Wind.

  • Bill Stetson, board of directors of Foundation for Our Future, co-founder of River Watch Network, founding board member of the Climate Speakers Network.

  • Thomas Steyer - It's Tom Steyer.

  • Nidhi Thakar, national co-chair, Clean Energy for Biden. Director of strategic integration, Portland General Electric.

  • William Tong, Connecticut attorney general, filed lawsuit against ExxonMobil for knowingly contributing to the emissions that cause climate change and hiding it from the public.

  • Juan Verde, “key participant of former Vice President Al Gore’s The Climate Reality Project and helped create its Spain and Argentina branches.”

  • Kathleen Welch, principal at Corridor Partners, a “left-of-center political advocacy and strategy investment firm that focuses on energy and environment issues.”

  • Steve Westly, founder & managing partner of The Westly Group, one of the larger sustainability venture firms in the U.S.

  • David Wilhelm, a global renewable energy developer, currently working for Hecate Energy. Founding Partner of Empower, a Columbus, Ohio-based energy services company.

  • Allison Zelman, director of climate and clean energy advocacy & policy at Gates Ventures.

  • Adam Zurofsky, executive director at Rewiring America. Former Deputy Secretary for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo who lead implementation of state’s climate agenda.

Obviously there’s much more to say about all of this, and I’ve got additional context and quotes from my interviews with Stricker, Wyeth, and Kimber that I’ll share with you as the week unfolds.

I’ve also got an interview with Tom Steyer scheduled for later this afternoon, and some information about environmentally-motivated voter turnout this election.

Make sure you’re fully subscribed so you get it all:

Additional post-election reading

Can Biden’s climate plan become a reality? “Pushing forward with Biden’s climate plan will require executive orders, new regulation, and, most importantly, groundbreaking legislation to reinvent America’s energy infrastructure,” report Buzzfeed’s Zahra Hirji and Peter Aldhous in a comprehensive look at what must happen, and what may happen, in the coming months and years. “Stand by for a major offensive” from the fossil fuel industry, says one source.

Republicans certainly aren’t going to make climate action easy. Even moderates like Mitt Romney are speaking out against climate action after Biden’s election, which is not a great sign for the planet’s livability if Republicans do take control of the Senate.

Oil companies are donating more to Democrats than ever. Democrats may be an obstacle to effective climate action, too. The vast majority, 85 percent of all oil and gas donations this election, have flowed on behalf of U.S. President Donald Trump, other Republican candidates and conservative causes,” Reuters reports. “However, oil majors have put more money into Democratic coffers … Chevron contributed roughly 28% of its political funds to Democratic candidates this cycle, from 26% in 2016. Exxon sent 41% of its contributions to Democratic candidates and parties, up from 32.6% in the last presidential election, the data showed.”

OK, that’s all for today—thanks for reading HEATED! To support independent climate journalism that holds the powerful accountable—and to receive HEATED’s reporting and analysis in your inbox four days a week—become a subscriber today.

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