An establishment environmental group is under fire for its recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president, which environmentalists and Bernie Sanders supporters say contradicts the organization's own rubric for grading candidates' political records.
The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) on Monday threw its full weight behind Clinton, marking the organization's earliest endorsement of a presidential candidate. During an appearance in Nashua, New Hampshire, LCV Action Fund president Gene Karpinski touted Clinton's "long history of strong environmental leadership," saying she is "without a doubt the most effective leader to stand up to Big Polluters and push forward an aggressive plan to tackle climate change."
This strong statement of support comes despite the fact that the organization—which charges itself with electing "pro-environment candidates"—had essentially given Clinton a lifetime score (pdf) of 82 out of 100 for her environmental voting record, leading the Sanders campaign to cry foul.
"Bernie's record on the environment is unbeatable," said Sanders' spokesperson Michael Briggs. "He has a 95 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters." Sanders has already won a number of significant environmental endorsements, including from fellow Vermonter and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben as well as Friends of the Earth.
In contrast, Briggs observed that the League only "agreed with former Sen. Clinton 82 percent of the time," adding that the endorsement is likely "based on something other than the merits."
National Journal reporter Ben Geman notes that LCV has close ties to the Democratic establishment. "It’s board chairwoman, Carol Browner, formerly served as a top climate-change official in President Obama’s White House and ran the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bill Clinton," Geman writes. Also, Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta is a former LCV board member.
Other environmentalists were equally quick to criticize the decision in light of Clinton's environmental record.
Blogger Brad Johnson tweeted that the group had chosen to back the Democratic candidate "with the weakest climate agenda," pointing to her historic support of fracking as well as the millions Big Oil has donated to the Clinton Foundation.
Similarly, the former Secretary of State's opposition to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline came years after Sanders came out against the project—following a trend of Clinton following his lead on a number of progressive issues.
The endorsement is not insignificant. The group is now preparing to launch a program to mobilize members in early primary states to volunteer for the Clinton campaign. Further, according to the group, LCV ponied up $15 million in the 2012 elections and $30 million in the 2014 cycle.
In a statement defending the group's decision, LCV vice president for communications, David Willett, suggested that the endorsement came down to the question of perceived electability.
"We are enthusiastically endorsing her because she’s a proven leader," Willett said, "and we are confident she is the best candidate to both beat her eventual climate denier opponent in the general and then hit the ground running on day one as president."