Billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, a man widely hailed as a world leader in the fight to combat climate change, has doled out nearly 7 times as much cash to Republican campaigns and political committees this election cycle as he has to Democratic ones.
Since the start of 2017, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX has personally contributed $88,900 to Republicans, while he gave those on the other side of the aisle $13,300, according to a HuffPost review of Federal Election Commission data.
Musk came under fire this week after Salon first reported that he’d donated $38,900 to Protect the House, a GOP political action committee focused on maintaining Republican control of the House. The June contributions puts him among the PAC’s top 50 donors.
But filings show Musk also gave $50,000 to a joint fundraising committee run by his friend House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). From this $50,000 donation, McCarthy’s committee sent $39,600 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, $5,000 to McCarthy’s leadership PAC Majority Committee and $5,400 to McCarthy’s campaign.
McCarthy, a climate change skeptic with a dismal 3 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, joined other Republicans last year in applauding President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the historic Paris climate accord.
On the flip side, Musk gave $10,800 to Sen. Diane Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) re-election bid late last year. (That is technically twice the legal contribution limit, and Feinstein will have to refund $5,400 of Musk’s money.) And in March, he donated $2,500 to the Democratic Midterm Victory Fund, the PAC of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, which, according to its website, is working to “elect Democrats to Congress who will stand up for those Americans left out and left behind by Donald Trump and the Republican Majority in Congress.”
In addition to Musk’s personal contributions, SpaceX’s political action committee has donated extensively to members of both parties this cycle. On the Republican side are some of Congress’ most prominent deniers of climate science, including Sens. Jim Inhofe (Okla.) and Ted Cruz (Texas), who received $2,500 and $3,500, respectively. The campaign committee of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the outgoing chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology who has argued that pumping the atmosphere full of carbon dioxide is “beneficial” to global trade, crop production and the lushness of the planet, received $1,000.
Musk has described the release of carbon dioxide as “the most dangerous experiment in history.”
SpaceX and Telsa did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on Tuesday. But earlier this week, Musk defended himself against the backlash, tweeting: “To be clear, I am not a conservative. Am registered independent & politically moderate. Doesn’t mean I’m moderate about all issues.”
“A nominal annual amount goes out automatically to both parties to maintain dialogue,” he added. “I have given vastly more to humanitarian causes.”
During the 2015-16 cycle, Musk gave only to Democrats, but in smaller quantities, FEC filings show. He donated $5,000 each to the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, while Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) received $2,700.
Last week, the Sierra Club moved swiftly to defend Musk against critics who questioned his donations to Republicans lawmakers who reject the science behind climate change. The 126-year-old environmental group praised Musk for dedicating “his career to the mission of replacing fossil fuels with clean energy” and thanked him for “strongly” backing its work.
In June 2017, Musk resigned from two White House advisory councils after Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. “Climate change is real,” Musk tweeted. In 2015, the New Yorker dubbed Musk a “climate hero” ― a title that plays to the image he’s promoted for himself as a real-life version of the Marvel comic book hero Tony Stark.
Yet the vast partisan disparity in Musk’s contributions challenges his reputation as a climate champion.
Tesla is credited with popularizing solar panels and batteries through its SolarCity division and rebranding electric vehicles as a sleek, sexy status symbol with a fleet of high-priced and speedy sedans and roadsters. That praise belies the reality that China’s electric car market, primarily serviced by Chinese manufacturers and spurred by Chinese regulations, is growing twice as fast as in the U.S. China is already the world’s biggest auto market, meaning that carmakers’ rush to build more electric cars ― far from being a bid to rival Tesla, as the narrative often goes ― is aimed at competing for Chinese buyers.
Musk has long billed Tesla’s nascent Model 3, a cheaper version of its luxury flagship Model S, as the car that could bring electric vehicles to the masses. But delays have plagued the rollout ― Musk called it “production hell” in April ― and companies like Toyota and Nissan already offer an array of affordable options. Still, the Model 3 became the best-selling electric car in the country earlier this year.
The sales alone might burnish his image among the hordes of online fans prone to attacking Musk’s critics, particularly female critics. But some hope the donations will help shift the narrative about Musk to focus on his status as a billionaire who owes his wealth largely to taxpayer-funded research yet bolsters a political party bent on chipping away at public goods and passing policies that exacerbate a looming ecological crisis.
“Is it any surprise that a union-busting capitalist donated heavily to the Republican Party? No,” said Sydney Ghazarian, co-founder of the Democratic Socialists of America’s national climate and environmental justice working group. “We need to stop fooling ourselves into believing that politics isn’t what governs the exploitation of people and planet for profit if we want our species to survive.”
Paul Blumenthal contributed reporting.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated Musk contributed 10 times as much to Republicans as to Democrats. That figure has been corrected to reflect that some of his donations to Republicans were routed through PACs.