Following criticism of his climate change plan, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said Wednesday he had signed the “No fossil fuel money” pledge and would decline any high-dollar donations from energy industry executives during his campaign.
O’Rourke said he made the decision in large part due to talks he had with students during a recent visit to the College of William & Mary. He was pressed by audience members during that event about future campaign donations, and the lawmaker said in a video message Wednesday he wanted to address those concerns.
“We need everybody on board to meet this challenge head on. We don’t want there to be any real or perceived conflicts of interest,” O’Rourke said in a message posted to Twitter. “So in accordance with the pledge, we’ve returned any money we’ve received over $200 from any fossil fuel company executives, we will not take that money going forward. We continue to try to be the largest grassroots campaign in this country.
The bid may well be an attempt for O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman who launched a failed Senate campaign last year, to move past some criticism over his history of accepting money from the energy industry. O’Rourke received more than $546,000 from oil and gas industry employees in 2018, the second-highest amount of any other member of Congress, according to OpenSecrets.org. Only Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), whom O’Rourke had hoped to unseat, received more.
He has long rejected donations from PACs, but Bloomberg reported last month that O’Rourke had declined to sign the pledge until now.
The pledge bars fossil-fuel-linked donations from oil executives, lobbyists and PACs, and mandates that candidates “instead prioritize the health of our families, climate, and democracy over fossil fuel industry profits.” Many notable Democrats have also signed it, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who are all also running for president.
Wednesday’s announcement comes just days after O’Rourke released a sweeping, $5 trillion plan to tackle climate change should he be elected. The effort would include massive investments in renewable energy, policies to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and the re-signing of the Paris Agreement. But some criticized the proposal as overly vague.
The effort was also met with some frustration by some of O’Rourke’s competitors, most notably Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who has launched his own bid for the presidency centered on climate change. Inslee disavowed fossil-fuel industry donations shortly after he announced his candidacy, and his campaign accused O’Rourke of throwing out dollar signs backed by “empty rhetoric.”
“Voters have a right to look closely at Democratic candidates’ plans to separate rhetoric from results on climate change,” Inslee’s campaign manager, Aisling Kerins, said in a statement earlier this week. “We will not defeat climate change with empty rhetoric, borrowed rhetoric, or by taking fossil fuel money. Beto O’Rourke will need to answer why he did not lead on climate change in Congress and why he voted on the side of oil companies to open up offshore drilling.”
O’Rourke defended his plan in an interview later that day, but said he would work with those in the fossil fuel industry as “partners … to make the kind of bold change that we need.”
“We cannot afford to alienate a significant part of this country. We cannot do this by half measure, or only by half of us,” O’Rourke said during an interview with MSNBC on Monday. “We all have a shared interest in a cleaner future in this country.”