A new report entitled, “Government for Rent: Exposing Climate Politics in Governors’ Offices,” found California Governor Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit is part of a disturbing trend where politicians are using their offices to promote activist donors’ climate agenda in exchange for free internal staffing and PR support. The report, authored by Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, is based on internal documents obtained through various states’ open records laws, which were published alongside the report.
Even though this week’s Global Climate Action Summit is presented as an event hosted by Governor Brown and the state of California, the report found that it is really part of a larger strategy pushed by wealthy foundations to resist the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement:
“The Brown-led Summit is a major effort by elected officials to effectively move the politicking and media spectacle up in the calendar and to run an expensive PR/political campaign (using state offices) to make climate an issue for the 2018 mid-term U.S. elections, by hosting what is – by all appearances – a governmental conference.”
Following the election of President Trump and in the lead up to the Global Climate Summit, the Hewlett Foundation started a program to place and pay for staff to serve in interested governors’ offices. Hewlett ran the staffing and occasionally even the hiring process through the World Resources Institute, an environmental group.
The Hewlett Foundation bankrolls a number of major environmental activist groups, including the Sierra Club.
The funding from Hewlett for this project has been used to place high-level policy staff into the offices of Governor Brown, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee to advise and coordinate on how to impact climate policy at the international level. The staffers also provide administrative and communications support for those efforts. Despite this tremendous influence, the fruits of the donors’ dollars has been represented to the public as being produced by the offices of the governors and their partnership the U.S. Climate Alliance.
To execute this strategy, the Hewlett Foundation hired former State Department Special Envoy for Climate Change, Johnathan Pershing, who was given a sizable budget “to place climate and energy policy staff members in governors’ offices, where they would be running the money and at least in one instance the hiring process through the World Resources institute.” Chris Horner, the report’s author, explains how this is essentially “government for rent”:
“This practice represents having outside parties hire staff members selected by governors for whom their legislatures have not authorized or have not appropriated funds. They use their office in service of the donors and of the advocacy groups’ and politicians’ aligned agenda.”
Horner alleges this program became a pipeline for other former Obama Administration officials whose services were no longer needed in Washington following the 2016 election. The program promoted officials who served in the National Security Council and U.S. State Department to “‘resume shaping the U.S. position on’ the energy and climate agenda” and were even referred to as “Obama refugees.”
In addition to high level in-house staff, money was funneled from wealthy foundations into governors’ offices for back office administrative functions and outside communications campaigns to amplify their messages on climate change.
There is often negative press and skepticism of politicians when they even meet with outside stakeholders to help shape policy. The arrangement wealthy donors have with the governors of New York, Washington, and California takes this dynamic to an entirely new level. These activists are not just meeting with the governors and their staffs, but embedding themselves as key policy advisors and representing themselves as staff of the governors.
Horner’s report raises serious questions about whether these governors can claim independence from donors and other political activists.
Reed Schuler, a former Obama State Department official, served as a senior policy advisor in Governor Inslee’s office, but was paid by the World Resources Institute. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board noted at the time:
“If this is common practice, Washingtonians deserve more details about which outside groups fund Mr. Inslee’s policy team. Substitute the Koch brothers for the World Resources Institute, and the outrage would be predictable. This setup creates real concerns about accountability and interest-peddling. Mr. Schuler knows who pays him, and it’s not Washington taxpayers.”
Unfortunately, this type of shady contracting of government work with wealthy donors is not limited to governors’ offices.
Another recent report from Horner found similar practices with state attorneys general. 100 Resilient Cities, an organization founded by the Rockefeller Foundation, has been distributing grants to cities to hire a “Chief Resilience Officer,” (CRO) presumably to push donor aligned positions within city governments. Houston recently demoted their existing CRO to “Flood Czar” after receiving a grant from 100 Resilient Cities to hire a new CRO, whose work will align with the work of the other Rockefeller CROs.