A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Clinton and Fossil Fuel Money


At an event in Iowa, Hillary Clinton and a man from an environmental group sparred about whether she had taken money from the fossil fuel industry. “You have,” the man said. Campaigns are prohibited from taking money directly from corporations, but Clinton has received donations from employees of oil and gas companies.

The issue arose at an Iowa event on Dec. 16 when Steve Patterson, a leader of local group 350 Iowa, asked Clinton about pledging not to accept money from the fossil fuel industry. 350 Action, according to its website, is “working in primary states to urge candidates for president to take bold action on climate change by pledging to keep fossil fuels in the ground and support a just transition to a 100 percent renewable energy.” Here’s how the exchange played out.

Steve Patterson, Dec. 16: Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley have both committed to not take money from the fossil fuel industry. I’d like to know if you’d be willing to sign a pledge that you will not take money from the fossil fuel industry.

Hillary Clinton: Well, I don’t know that I ever have. I’m not exactly one of their favorites.

Patterson: You have.

Clinton: Have I? OK, well, I’ll check on that. They certainly haven’t made much of an impression on me if I don’t even know it. Look, I am committed to moving away from fossil fuels toward clean, renewable energy. … I am not in favor of drilling off of our coasts. I was out there first, before even the president, saying no drilling the Arctic. … Everybody knows where I stand. …

Individuals who might have some connection to whatever industry, I’m not going to do a litmus test on them. I don’t think that there’s a lot who support me, but the companies don’t, because they know I’m going to be very adamant about moving us towards clean renewable energy and I think that’s the way it should be. They should know where we’re going and how I’m going to try and get you there.

Clinton’s 2016 campaign has not accepted any direct contributions from any corporation, oil and gas companies included. That would violate election law. Nor has her 2016 campaign accepted any money from PACs tied to the oil and gas industry.

So far in the 2016 campaign, Clinton has received about $160,000 in contributions from people who work for oil and gas companies, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But those contributions would not run afoul of the group’s pledge.

A Republican super PAC, America Rising, scoffed at Clinton’s response, claiming that she has “literally taken millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry.” But the PAC is including money oil companies donated to the Clinton Foundation — which is a charitable foundation that is unaffiliated with the Clinton campaign and would have no bearing on the pledge.

In its press release, America Rising points to a Huffington Post analysis that found “[n]early 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.” Among them are current or former lobbyists for Chevron and TransCanada, the company that tried to build the Keystone XL pipeline. America Rising also points to millions of dollars donated by oil companies to the Clinton Foundation — a charitable foundation that is not affiliated with Clinton’s presidential campaign — and to the fact that Clinton owns shares of a mutual fund that invests in some oil and gas companies.

Those kinds of ties raise “serious concerns” for the folks at 350 Action, even though none of that has any bearing on the pledge.

“Right now, in terms of the pledge, she’s probably in accordance with it,” said Jamie Henn of 350 Action. “But this is a gray area. I would grade her a B-minus.”

That pledge, which was initiated by The Nation magazine, asks candidates to honor the following: “In the name of protecting our country and the world from the growing dangers of climate change, I will neither solicit nor accept campaign contributions from any oil, gas, or coal company.”

But according to Will Tucker, the money-in-politics reporter for the Center for Responsive Politics, the pledge is “pretty empty” and “completely moot” because campaigns are prohibited from taking money directly from corporations. “So they are basically asking campaigns to sign a pledge that they won’t break the law,” Tucker told FactCheck.org.

According to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, the Clinton 2016 campaign has received about $160,000 to date from oil and gas company employees. That’s the third highest among presidential candidates — Republicans Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush top the list with $499,000 and $273,000, respectively. (Democrats Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, both of whom agreed to the pledge, have received $13,000 and $6,200, respectively, from employees of the oil and gas industry.)

For some context, the Clinton campaign raised more than $77 million as of Sept. 30, and the fossil fuel industry did not rank among her top 20 donors by industry.

The $160,000 Clinton’s campaign has received from the oil and gas industry comes entirely from oil and gas company employees (her campaign also received $398,000 from oil and gas employees during the 2008 campaign — fifth highest among the presidential candidates). These employees could be executives or merely rank-and-file employees of an oil or gas company. Although the tally includes PAC donations, no PACs tied to the oil and gas industry have donated to the Clinton 2016 campaign, researchers at the Center for Responsive Politics told us.

One small aside, the former New York senator said she didn’t think she “ever” has received money from the fossil fuel industry. But in years past, before this election cycle, her Senate campaign has accepted a small amount — a total of about $12,500 — from PACs tied to the oil and gas industry. According to research by the Center for Responsive Politics, based on data from the Federal Election Commission, Clinton’s Senate campaign has received seven contributions from oil-and-gas-related PACs between 2000 and 2008, including a $2,500 donation from the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers in 2006 and a $5,000 contribution from Occidental Petroleum in 2000.