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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

League of Conservation Voters

playersguide2014_135pxPolitical leanings: Pro-environment/liberal

Spending target: Unknown

The League of Conservation Voters works to defeat “anti-environment” candidates, according to its mission statement, and elect politicians “who stand up for a clean, healthy future for America.”

The group was founded in 1969 by activist David Brower, executive director of the Sierra Club in the 1950s and ’60s and founder of Friends of the Earth. Its current president is Gene Karpinski, former executive director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Several well-known environmental organizations are represented on its board, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth and The Wilderness Society.

The League of Conservation Voters tracks the voting records of members of Congress on environmental issues in its National Environmental Scorecard, and it annually names a “Dirty Dozen,” a list of politicians whom the group aims to defeat because of their voting records on conservation issues, and their political vulnerability. (The group also names a state-level Dirty Dozen.)

The group operates a 501(c)(4), as well as a political action committee and super PAC, with the vast majority of the spending in the last few election cycles done by the 501(c)(4), which doesn’t have to disclose its donors. In 2012, the League of Conservation Voters’ 501(c)(4) spent nearly $36 million, with almost $15 million going to political campaign activities, according to the group’s filing with the IRS.

In the 2012 election cycle, the 501(c)(4) spent $8.6 million against Republicans, $524,000 against Democrats and $1.7 million in support of Democrats, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. (The group’s super PAC, meanwhile, spent only $2.6 million, most of that against Republicans.)

Altogether, the 501(c)(4) and PACs spent more than $2 million trying to defeat Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and another $2 million to defeat George Allen, the Republican Senate candidate in Virginia. The group also focused its dollars on Senate candidates Jeff Flake in Arizona and Scott Brown in Massachusetts, as well as House candidate Francisco Canseco in Texas. The group was successful in four of those five races.

That 2012 spending was a big step up from 2010, when the groups’ total independent expenditures were $5.4 million, with the vast majority of that — a little more than $5 million — spent in support of Democrats.

Among its donors are the Advocacy Fund, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that offers strategic management services to those advocating on “issues of social justice, environmental sustainability, human rights,” which gave more than $2 million in 2013, the Sea Change Foundation, which contributed more than $5 million in 2012, and Green Tech Action Fund, which gave more than $4 million in 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Both the Sea Change Foundation and Green Tech Action Fund operate skeleton websites that say the groups give grants to further environmental causes. All of the groups are in San Francisco.

Sea Change Foundation’s 2011 IRS filing shows it gives to liberal and environmental organizations. It was founded in 2006 by Nathaniel Simons, a hedge fund manager, according to a Columbia Journalism School report on the campaign to pass climate change legislation. Simons is a principal and vice chairman of Renaissance Technologies, which was founded by his father, and works for a fund of the company, the Meritage Group, as does his wife, Laura Baxter-Simons. Green Tech Action says it is affiliated with the Energy Foundation, a philanthropy that supports clean energy projects and is chaired by former Democratic congressman Phil Sharp of Indiana. The Energy Foundation reports that it gave Green Tech Action Fund $1 million in each of the last two years (2012 and 2013).

The league also operates the LCV Education Fund, which aims to “strengthen the capacity of the environmental movement” and “mobilize citizens as informed voters,” and the LCV Action Fund, a bundling site that encourages individual contributions to candidates.

For the 2014 election cycle, the LCV’s 501(c)(4) had spent nearly $6.6 million as of Oct. 7, including more than $2 million in support of Democrat Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado and against his challenger, Republican Rep. Cory Gardner. It also had spent $1.4 million in support of Alaska Democrat Sen. Mark Begich, who is running against former state Attorney General Dan Sullivan, and $1.17 million in Iowa to help Rep. Bruce Braley in his Senate race against Republican Joni Ernst.

Separately, the LCV’s super PAC had spent more than $2.5 million in the 2014 cycle as of Oct. 7. Most of that money — more than $1.4 million — went to help Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who is running against Republican Thom Tillis in North Carolina.

Fact-checking the League of Conservation Voters:

Environmentalists Misuse GOP Quote, Aug. 16, 2013