Big Companies Backing Obama's Climate Agenda Also Fund Its Enemies

Some U.S. corporate giants fail to put their money where their mouths are.
PepsiCo is among the companies whose public statements say one thing, and whose donations say another.
PepsiCo is among the companies whose public statements say one thing, and whose donations say another.
Jacky Naegelen / Reuters

Many of the corporate giants touting their support for President Barack Obama’s environmental agenda are also backing that agenda’s biggest opponents.

Companies including DuPont, Google and PepsiCo donated to droves of U.S. lawmakers who refuse to accept the scientific consensus on humanity’s role in climate change, according to a new analysis of public records by Reuters.

The report, published Tuesday, sheds new light on what is often a disconnect between the policies that large companies advocate for and the candidates behind whom they put their money.

Reuters reviewed donations made during the 2016 election cycle by political action committees of the 30 biggest publicly traded U.S. companies that signed Obama’s “American Business Action on Climate Change Pledge.” The 2015 commitment, signed by 154 companies, served as a public promise by large businesses to push for environmentally friendly policies and to support strong climate action like the historic accord reached in Paris last December.

During the period reviewed by Reuters, two companies ― PepsiCo and the chemical giant DuPont ― doled out half or more of their political spending to the campaigns of more than 130 congressional lawmakers listed as “climate deniers” by Organizing For Action, a Democratic-leaning nonprofit founded by former Obama staffers.

Google, AT&T, General Electric, Verizon and Mondelez gave more than a third of their political donations to candidates, almost all of them Republicans, on that list, Reuters found. (Verizon owns AOL, The Huffington Post’s parent company.)

A GE spokeswoman said in a statement that the company backs “elected officials based on a wide range of issues, but we have consistently been outspoken about the need to address climate change and have invested over $17 billion in cleaner technology R&D over the last 11 years.”

None of the other companies named above responded immediately to The Huffington Post’s requests for comment.

The Republican Party has long been the more business-friendly of America’s two parties, advocating for tax and employment policies that are favorable to companies’ bottom lines. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence, members of the party ― particularly those with backing from the fossil fuel industries, like coal and oil ― have denied the role of human activity in causing global temperatures to rise. Obama has slammed Republicans for being “the only major party that I can think of in the advanced world that effectively denies climate change.”

That has produced a schism between some big businesses and the party that claims to represent their interests.

Last September, an unlikely coalition of companies ― including Goldman Sachs, Starbucks, Johnson & Johnson and Walmart ― committed to using 100 percent renewable energy within a decade.

Corporate purchases of clean energy skyrocketed last year ahead of the Paris treaty, which was formally ratified last week by China’s parliament. This was particularly true among companies that had never bought renewable power before. Of the more than 20 corporate giants that inked major renewable energy deals last year, 15 of them were first-time buyers, accounting for 67 percent of the market, according to a report by the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute.

First-time corporate purchases of renewable energy for this year already top those in 2011 and 2012 combined.
First-time corporate purchases of renewable energy for this year already top those in 2011 and 2012 combined.
Rocky Mountain Institute

Still, the tension between certain companies’ political spending and their stated environmental values is sometimes hard to ignore. In June, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) wrote an op-ed lambasting companies for failing to lobby on behalf of climate-friendly policies. He criticized firms like PepsiCo for remaining part of trade associations that fail to acknowledge climate change, or that even deny its risks outright.

“Washington’s dirty secret is that even the American companies that are really good on sustainability put net zero effort into lobbying Congress on climate change,” he wrote in Forbes. “We are far closer to getting something big done on climate in Congress than most people think, but the good guys in the corporate sector have to start showing up.”

But there may be cause for optimism, according to Anne Kelly, a senior program director at the nonprofit Ceres, which pushes investors and companies to take environmental risk and sustainability seriously.

By backing candidates who question the science behind climate change, some companies could gain influence over those candidates and sway them to more climate-friendly positions, Kelly said.

“Our hope is that by funding certain lawmakers whose positions on climate and energy do not match the companies’ positions, they’re actually encouraging those lawmakers to evolve and giving them cover,” Kelly told HuffPost on Tuesday. “We understand that lawmaking is complicated and [companies] may need the support of those people for other issues that may have nothing to do with climate or energy, though that’s not an excuse.”

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