SIGN ON: A Statement by Pennsylvania Action on Climate to Governor Josh Shapiro

We are inviting all climate organizations to sign onto this statement directed to Josh Shapiro, who indirectly takes fossil fuel industry money, yet prides himself as being a climate champion.

A Statement by Pennsylvania Action on Climate on Governor Josh Shapiro

Governor Shapiro indirectly takes fossil fuel industry money, and his self-image as a climate reformer is in direct contradiction to his actions taken on behalf of the fossil fuel industry.  

As candidate for Governor in 2022, Josh Shapiro presented himself as a champion of climate reform. Environmental nonprofits Conservation Voters of America and Sierra Club Pennsylvania gave him financial support. Other groups endorsed him. However, once elected, Governor Shapiro disappointed climate nonprofits so greatly that more than 100 groups and signatories recently sent a letter to the Governor expressing their disappointment at his performance during his first year in office and his stated plans for Pennsylvania’s future. It is a future built around the continued use of fossil fuels and makes impossible Candidate Shapiro’s pledge to make 30% of the energy sold in Pennsylvania come from renewable sources by 2030.

On October 22, 2023, Governor Shapiro and his family were gifted Philadelphia Eagles tickets valued at $1,650 by Mike Brunelle, Governor Wolf’s former Chief of Staff and current mega-lobbyist who represents fossil fuel corporations. The gift of Eagles tickets was classified as an in-kind campaign contribution instead of a gift, because ironically, Shapiro needed those tickets to enter a luxury box at the Eagles game for what was an indirect campaign fundraiser for Shapiro himself. The fundraiser was officially for the Democratic Governors Association (see invitation). At this event, lobbyists and corporate executives paid $15,000 each to show Governor Shapiro and his family a good time while buying favor and selling him on increased fossil fuel production and minimizing the effects of increased ecological devastation.

The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) was, by far, Candidate Shapiro's single largest source of campaign money. The checks to his committee, “Shapiro for Pennsylvania”, totaled $7,251,371 in 2022. The DGA functions as a campaign money laundering operation. It receives unlimited contributions from corporations, including fossil fuel corporations; the fingerprints of the contributors are washed clean; and the money is then disbursed to candidates like Shapiro. This money-laundering mechanism enabled him to accept fossil fuel campaign money with no direct link to him. In 2022 alone, fossil fuel corporations directly gave at least $3,036,000 to the DGA (this is an undercount, as we only traced corporate fossil fuel contributions and we could not trace contributions from individuals affiliated with the fossil fuel industry).

The DGA, and its counterpart the Republican Governors Association (RGA), are known money laundering schemes. In a 2017 article, the Wall Street Journal noted that, “Money, of course, is fungible, especially in politics, and donations that go into a general pool can be hard to trace when they come out the other end.” The article quotes several DGA and RGA insiders who say money is directed to the candidates the donors wish to support. The article cites multiple instances where someone who wants something from a candidate makes a contribution to the DGA or the RGA, and then the association makes a contribution to that candidate. This is the same mechanism that the fracking industry used in 2010 to pass enormous amounts of money through the RGA to candidate Tom Corbett, who after winning the campaign for Governor, went on to allow the fracking industry to do whatever it wanted to Pennsylvania.

The DGA allowed the fossil fuel industry to help Shapiro become Governor, and it allows Shapiro to take fossil fuel industry money without appearing to do so.

When running for Governor, Shapiro needed to appeal to Democratic voters, of whom nearly 8 out of 10 describe climate change as a major threat to the country’s well-being. If he had openly advocated for policies and actions favorable to the fossil fuel industry, he would have upset many Democratic voters, and perhaps inspired a challenger in the primary election (which he won with no serious challenger).

Despite receiving the support of several large environmental nonprofits in a state that is second only to Texas in gas production, there was surprisingly no opposition to Shapiro from the fossil fuel industry. There was little industry money given directly to his opponent, and we have been unable to uncover any indirect fossil fuel funded independent expenditures against him. This was a good situation for an ambitious politician like Shapiro, who eventually sees himself running for the White House. He was generally supported by large environmental nonprofits; the fossil fuel industry did not put up a fight against him; and he was receiving money from the DGA, which was likely laundered fossil fuel money.

This was also a good situation for the fossil fuel industry. While climate change is an existential crisis for humans, it is also an existential threat for the fossil fuel industries. For all of us on the planet to have a shot at survival, the industry’s below-ground assets (fossil fuels) need to remain in the ground – and this would make their above-ground assets (everything from pipelines to refineries to oil tankers) worthless. By the rules of our greed-and-extraction based economy, it is the job of fossil fuel executives and their lobbyists to protect their assets.The main change-blocking tool they use to protect their assets is giving politicians money to corrupt them. Money spent in politics to stop major reform is money well spent, and it is all completely legal.

We cannot prove that the fossil fuel money that went into the DGA directly went to Shapiro’s campaign or that the campaign received corporate contributions (which would otherwise be illegal) because there is no legal way for us to see inside the washing machine. We know that Shapiro fundraises from the fossil fuel industry on behalf of the DGA–he loads the money into the washing machine, and he takes money from the DGA–the washing machine is unloaded to him. We know that he takes extravagant gifts from fossil fuel lobbyists, including Super Bowl tickets from Team Pennsylvania, a public-private nonprofit run by fossil fuel and other corporate executives. This non-profit is dedicated to promoting corporate interests, including more fossil fuel production. We know the results of this corruption: As Governor, Shapiro has continued our shameful tradition of ecological devastation, and refuses to act to build a brighter and livable future for Pennsylvanians.

An honest analysis of the Governor’s and the State Legislature’s actions reveal that they have done nothing to make corruption illegal and they have given the fossil fuel industry what it wants. The main thing the industry wants is nothing to fundamentally change and for their climate-killing behavior to continue unchallenged.

The main public focus for the last five years is whether Pennsylvania will join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to create a “Cap and Invest” system to lower greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI would have an impact on greenhouse gasses, but it is not the “silver bullet” policy that politicians made it into through multiple lawsuits, absurd legislative proposals, and the usual political theater. For his part, Governor Shapiro formed a secret “working group” on RGGI, which was later revealed to contain representatives from Shell, CNX Resources Corporation (CNX), Constellation Energy, and Olympus Power. This working group did not recommend that PA join RGGI. While RGGI continues to be the subject of lawsuits and pending legislation, the Governor is publicly able to sit on the fence and scare environmental advocates who are held hostage to their fear that the Governor will fully turn against RGGI. As the Governor continues the proud tradition of focusing the fight against ecological devastation on a small piece of the problem that never gets resolved (the previous endless fight was the severance tax), he also continues the tradition of letting the fossil fuel industry do what it wants.

The Governor has proudly promoted hydrogen hubs that will use immense amounts of fracked gas. He has expanded and praised plastics production. In his first year in office, the DEP reported a record number of violations by oil and gas operators (including failures to plug methane-venting wells). Despite the record number of violations, Shapiro entered into a bizarre self-policing agreement with CNX that absurdly relies on CNX to hold themselves accountable despite their long track-record of ecological devastation. Shapiro’s actions do not match his promise of PA reaching 30% renewable energy by 2030 (which is much lower than the pledges of our neighbors in MD (70%) and NY (50%)).

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can and we must end ecological devastation in Pennsylvania. We can rapidly end the use of fossil fuels and transition to a green economy. We can create good unionized jobs programs to remediate ecological devastation across PA and build our renewable energy infrastructure. We can create an economy that values life over the profits of fossil fuel executives.

To end ecological devastation in Pennsylvania, we need to make corruption illegal and break the power of the ultra-rich fossil fuel industry to use legal bribery to translate their money into policy violence.

Pennsylvania has no limit on campaign contributions from a person or a group, no limit on gifts from lobbyists to public officials, no limit on dark money political expenditures (even from foreign-influenced corporations), no limit on the paid side jobs that full-time public officials can work, no (effective) limit on future revolving-door jobs, and no transparency with respect to dark money sources or campaign laundromats like the DGA and the RGA. We need to limit campaign contributions and create a public campaign financing system similar to the Democracy Vouchers system in Seattle. We need to ban gifts, side jobs, and revolving-door jobs. We need to ban foreign-influenced corporate dark money expenditures, and we need to shine a light on all the obfuscated money swirling through our system.

We are forcing Governor Shapiro to pick a side. Either he stands with the people of Pennsylvania, or he stands with the fossil fuel industry and their bribes. As his ambitious political career continues, will he continue down the path of ecological devastation, public health degradation, and an increasingly chaotic climate leading to massive loss of life? Or, will he stop the destruction of democracy and make corruption illegal, turn away from the fossil fuel industry, and build the future that we need and deserve?

It is our duty to increase the pressure we need to make the Governor do the right thing. This is the goal of Pennsylvania Action on Climate and all individuals and organizations standing with us.

For Love and Democracy,

Pennsylvania Action on Climate

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