Environmental advocates would like to support more Republican candidates for federal office, but the party's swing rightward, especially on environmental and energy issues, has made it more difficult to find acceptable candidates to endorse.
The groups told Bloomberg BNA the environmental community doesn't want to be seen as only backing Democrats, but it won't support candidates unwilling to address climate change. The influx of outside, third-party spending from political action committees has made it harder for moderate Republicans to embrace pro-environment stances, the groups said during interviews in October.
“Every environmental group in the world is looking for a good Republican to support,” Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the NRDC Action Fund, told Bloomberg BNA. “We would love to support more. That's a definite.”
That desire comes as many of the groups prepare for unprecedented spending in the midterm elections, with the overwhelming amount of spending going for Democrats. The League of Conservation Voters Action Fund intends to spend $25 million this cycle backing pro-environment candidates, and billionaire Tom Steyer's NextGen Climate Action Committee is expected to spend at least $50 million in 2014 races.
Environmental groups are endorsing few Republican candidates. The League of Conservation Voters Action Fund has endorsed Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) in their re-election contests; the Environmental Defense Action Committee is backing Collins and Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.); and the NRDC Action Fund is supporting Collins.
Changed Republican Party
The number of Republican endorsements by environmental groups has fallen dramatically over the past decade. Daniel J. Weiss of the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund said his organization used to endorse a dozen or more Republicans each cycle, but a changing national party has made that impossible.
“We have not changed our criteria for endorsing someone,” Weiss told Bloomberg BNA. “It's the federal Republican Party that has changed.”
In 2006, for example, the League of Conservation voters endorsed 15 Republicans: Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Reps. Nancy Johnson (Conn.), Chris Shays (Conn.), Rob Simmons (Conn.), Mike Castle (Del.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Tim Johnson (Ill.), Jim Leach (Iowa), Vern Ehlers (Mich.), Joe Schwarz (Mich.), Jim Ramstad (Minn.), LoBiondo, Jim Saxton (N.J.), Sherwood “Sherry” Boehlert (N.Y.) and Sue Kelly (N.Y.).
Leach, who began serving in the House in 1977 and lost his re-election bid in 2006, told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail that the loss of Republicans supportive of climate action could be due to the recent influx of outside spending in political campaigns.
“Corporate interests that mock the validity of science-based concerns for global warming appear to be siding disproportionately with one political party, while several large donors in the environmental community have opted to support the other,” said Leach, who now is a visiting professor of law at the University of Iowa. “There are few issues that should be more bipartisan than concern for the environment—the air we breathe, the water we drink and the oceans that define our borders.”
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