At a rally on Thursday night, Greenpeace activist Eva Resnick-Day approached Hillary Clinton to ask a question. Her exchange with Clinton was caught on video and is shown and transcribed below.
Resnick-Day: “Thank you for tackling climate change. Will you act on your word to address fossil fuel money in your campaign?”
Clinton: I do not…I have money from people who work for fossil fuel companies. I am so sick…
Resnick-Day: Yeah, and registered lobbyists.
Clinton: I am so sick of the Sanders campaign lying about me. I’m sick of it.
It’s important to separate a fact-based assessment of this exchange from our beliefs about the meaning of the relevant evidence. Here are the facts:
- Resnick-Day has nothing to do with the Sanders campaign – she works for Greenpeace.
- Resnick-Day’s question followed up on outreach Greenpeace had been doing for months: they’ve asked Clinton “to address fossil fuel money in [her] campaign” before and Clinton has dodged the question. In December, an activist from 350 (another environmental advocacy group) asked Clinton about taking money from the fossil fuel industry and Clinton responded “I don’t know that I ever have…I’ll check on that.”
- Companies do not donate directly to candidate campaigns – that would be illegal. As The Huffington Post reported last July, however, “Nearly all of the lobbyists bundling contributions for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign have at one time or another worked for the fossil fuel industry.” Greenpeace’s critique is that Clinton’s campaign and Super PACs affiliated with her campaign have “received more than $4.5 million from lobbyists, bundlers, and large donors connected [with] the fossil fuel industry.”
Given these facts, it is perfectly fine for Hillary Clinton to note that, while she has taken money “from people who work for fossil fuel companies,” she has not taken any from the companies themselves. It was also perfectly correct, however, for Resnick-Day to add “and registered lobbyists.” And since nothing Clinton was confronted with here was new, false, or generated by the Sanders campaign, Clinton’s claim that the “Sanders campaign [was] lying about [her]” was entirely unfair and divorced from reality.
Those defending Clinton have made a few reasonable points about the interpretation of the facts above. Some have observed that the Sanders campaign has also received some money – about $54,000 – from individuals associated with the oil & gas industry and that Clinton’s haul from that industry comprises a small fraction of her total campaign contributions (the plurality of which come from individuals associated with Wall Street). Others have noted that her lobbyist bundlers don’t exclusively hail from the oil and gas industry; they lobby for other corporate clients as well. Yet it is wrong to assert, as some writers have, that donations to Clinton’s Super PACs shouldn’t count – there is close coordination between those Super PACs and her campaign – and it is undeniable that people associated with oil and gas interests like Clinton a whole lot better than they like Sanders.
Does that mean that Clinton is bought and paid for by energy interests? Not necessarily. But it’s important to note that, while a “sizable chunk of Sanders’ plan takes aim at the fossil fuel industry” by, among other things, banning fossil fuel lobbyists from the White House and ending subsidies to fossil fuel companies, Clinton’s doesn’t go there. It’s important to note that, while Sanders is a staunch opponent of fracking, Clinton conditionally supports it. And it’s important to note that, before Clinton’s recent changes of heart about the Keystone XL pipeline, Arctic drilling, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership in response to pressure from Sanders and climate activists, she didn’t appear particularly interested in taking bold action on climate change. It’s just as possible that Sanders’ climate plan being better than Clinton’s has caused the fossil fuel industry to like Clinton better as it is that the fossil fuel industry has caused Clinton’s plans to be worse, but neither possibility is particularly comforting to those of us who care about the environment.
It makes sense that Clinton doesn’t want Sanders discussing these facts: they don’t look particularly good for her. But neither climate activists nor the Sanders campaign is lying about anything here. Claims to the contrary from the Clinton team and her prominent supporters only serve to show that it’s easier for them to pretend than to defend Clinton’s record.