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OpenGov Voices: Shining a light on energy sector influence

Monday, December 7, 2015 9:27
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(Before It's News)

By The Sunlight Foundation

Chelsea Phipps, NRDC Action Fund communications associate

What did the 49 co-sponsors of a resolution to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan have in common? A total of $52 million in political contributions from the oil and gas, electric utilities and coal mining industries to their campaigns.

The NRDC Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) whose mission is to build political support for protecting the planet and its people, spotlighted these contributions in its new analysis of open data provided by the Sunlight Foundation. This information is captured in, an innovative project of the NRDC Action Fund that shows:

  1. the amount of money every senator and representative has received in contributions from polluting companies; and
  2. the voting record of every senator and representative on key votes that relate to clean energy, fossil fuels and climate change.

The Sunlight Foundation’s data are based on contributions from the oil and gas, electric utilities, and coal mining sectors, as reported to the Federal Election Commission. NRDC Action Fund policy experts identify the votes that have the greatest potential to impact clean air and climate policy.

The energy industry-backed resolution to repeal the Clean Power Plan, which passed in the Senate but will certainly be vetoed by President Obama, wasn’t able to actually undercut the Clean Power Plan. It did, however, tell voters whose agenda these politicians supported.

Pollsters are in consensus: The majority of Americans want action on climate and support investing in clean energy. But yet, these elected officials voted to repeal the nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants. The NRDC Action Fund used the data from Sunlight Foundation to explore what might be the motivation behind their votes in a recent blog post. Here’s an excerpt from the post written by Pete Altman, NRDC Action Fund’s climate campaign director:

The average anti-Clean Power Plan co-sponsor has taken just over $1 million from polluters. Senator John Cornyn of Texas has taken the most—$5.4 million over the course of his career. … Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma has taken $3.2 million. And the Senate’s ringleader, … Senator Mitch McConnell, has taken $3.8 million from polluters during his career. enables citizens to utilize social media tools to hold these public officials accountable for their votes to help drive policy change and to protect our bedrock environmental laws.  

Holding politicians accountable is essential to the Democratic process and citizens’ interest. But accountability relies on open, transparent information. Thanks to the Sunlight Foundation, the Who Votes Dirty website is able to shine light on the relationship between campaign money and crucial energy votes.

Interested in writing a guest blog for Sunlight? Email us at [email protected]

The Sunlight Foundation is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike.


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