By Rob Roper
The Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) is boasting on its website that over 100 legislators have signed their “Take No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge.” Only, it’s a completely bogus pledge. Read the fine print down by the asterisk: “*Note: Taking the pledge means that a candidate’s campaign will adopt a policy to not knowingly accept any contributions over $200 from fossil fuel industry corporations, PACs, executives, or front groups associated with these companies.”
So, the whole notion of “take no money” is a flat out lie. It should read, “take no more than $200 from each fossil fuel entity (and this number is as limitless as your ability to line them up), but if you don’t know who is a fossil fuel entity and who isn’t, well, just go ahead and cash the checks and we won’t count it. Wink, wink!” But that’s not a very catchy or compelling headline, I guess.
Additionally, it should be pointed out that in tiny Vermont, where House and Senate races usually cost just a few thousand dollars to run (with some exceptions), $200 is considered a fairly sizable donation. If you look at, for example, the speaker of the House’s campaign finance report, out of 41 donations over $100, 18, or almost half, are between $150 and $300. Even Democratic mega-donors Crea Linthilac and David Blittersdorf ponied up just $250 and $500 respectively to the speaker in what looks to be a competitive race. Giving up donations over $200 from fossil fuel companies is not in any way, shape or form a hardship for a candidate.
So, why is VPIRG even bothering with this nonsense? Let’s look at the other half — the less heralded side — of the pledge that comes after the part about refusing fossil fuel donations: “…and instead prioritize the health of our families, climate, and democracy over fossil fuel industry profits.” This is VPIRGese for “and support a carbon tax.”
You can bet that when carbon tax legislation comes up in 2019, VPIRG will be there to remind these hundred-plus legislators that they, indeed, signed this pledge, and, if they don’t support the carbon tax, will have broken it by prioritizing fossil fuel industry profits over democracy, children, puppies, etc. This isn’t exactly fair, because many of the legislators who signed onto this pledge probably don’t support a carbon tax. Many probably signed this thing the way we sign off to the Apple iTunes terms of agreement: read the first line and then skip to the bottom and click “agree.” But, caveat emptor, and with VPIRG, you’d really better beware of deceptive practices.