A power couple in the environmental movement is now using a shadowy liberal network to funnel lucrative donations in an effort to elect Democrats.
Rampa R. Hormel and her husband Thomas have distributed millions to Democratic candidates and liberal groups over the past decade. They have enhanced their giving through Rampa’s connection to the Democracy Alliance, a group of wealthy liberal donors that pump money into the hands of Democratic Super PACs and progressive behemoths sponsored by hedge fund billionaire George Soros.
The Hormels have contributed more than $100,000 to Democrats and Democrat-aligned groups since 2006, including $4,600 to Barack Obama, $30,000 to the League of Conservation Voters, and $50,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
However, that is just a drop in the ocean compared with the strategic giving encouraged by the Alliance, which donated more than $100 million to liberal organizations between 2005 and 2008, according to the Capitol Research Center.
Hormel made millions off of pressuring companies to go green. She sits on the board of directors of Green Seal, a nonprofit that charges companies up to $30,000 to endorse products as environmentally responsible. The group has slapped this stamp of approval on thousands of products and has garnered numerous government contracts to seek out "green" goods. Although the group has never produced a consumer good of its own, it has amassed enough money to help pay for Hormel’s $4.1 million Washington, D.C., mansion.
The Alliance operates in much the same way. A stamp of approval as a "favored organization" can be life or death for an aspirant pressure group. When the Alliance deserted the liberal Rockwood Leadership Institute in 2007, President William Upski Wimsatt revealed, "We had lost something in the neighborhood of a million dollars—half our budget." The Alliance’s influence led Vice President Joe Biden to beseech the group to reverse its prohibition against financing campaigns following the 2010 elections. The Alliance decided to begin funding Obama’s Super PAC, Priorities USA, in 2011.
Hormel’s advocacy has also won the ears of Democratic bigwigs in Washington and philanthropy circles, according to Jacob Laksin, author of the best-selling New Leviathan: How the Left-Wing Money-Machine Shapes American Politics and Threatens America's Future.
"Many leftwing advocates have turned their influence from the non-profit and foundation worlds into jobs with the White House," Laksin said. "This is especially true in the environmental movement."
Environmental groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund have pressured the Obama administration to adopt harsh regulations on coal production and emissions standards that could potentially wipe out tens of thousands of jobs. Such groups can attain even more influence by joining groups that help Democrats win elections, according to Laksin.
"[The Democracy Alliance] has been extremely effective on this front," he said. "They’re not designed to focus on policy apart from electoral politics; electoral success is the same as policy success in that world. They wield a lot of power in Democratic politics."
Hormel wields a considerable amount of influence in her own right as president and treasurer of Enlyst Fund, a nonprofit grant-writing group for environmental projects. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has personally thanked Hormel for her efforts on behalf of environmental activists. Thomas Hormel also contributed $4,600 to Clinton’s 2008 presidential run.
Neither Hormel nor the Democracy Alliance returned calls for comment.
Enlyst, formerly known as the Global Environment Project Institute, has distributed more than $5 million to progressive groups since 2000—including grants to many of the same groups supported by the Democracy Alliance.
Hormel oversaw major contributions to some of the groups supported by the Democracy Alliance, including $250,000 to the Center for American Progress and $60,000 to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a Soros-backed group that focuses most of its efforts on filing ethics charges against Republicans. Enlyst also gave nearly $700,000 to the Tides Center and Foundation, a Democratic money-clearing house.
"The Tides Foundation is another group where funders give them money and the organization has final discretion over where the money goes," Laksin said. "That gives them plausible deniability when Tides money ends up in the hands of anarchist environmental groups."