The Wind Lobby and American Domestic Policy

Obama champions wind tax credit favored by campaign donors

AP Images
September 25, 2012

A wind energy tax credit championed by President Barack Obama will benefit financially a group of large American corporations that have donated overwhelmingly to Democratic candidates and committees.

Last week a group of 19 non-energy sector businesses—including Yahoo!, Starbucks, Symantec, and Sprint—sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to extend the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a $1 billion tax subsidy for wind energy set to expire at the end of the year.

"We are concerned that allowing the PTC to expire will immediately raise prices for the renewable electricity we buy today," the letter states. "…Failure to extend the PTC for wind would tax our companies and thousands of others like us that purchase significant amounts of renewable energy and hurt our bottom lines at a time when the economy is struggling to recovery."

A review of the companies’ political contributions reveals a strong preference for Obama and the Democratic Party.

The 19 businesses and their employees have given a combined $240,648 to Obama’s campaign this cycle, compared with $83,875 given to Republican candidate Mitt Romney. They have contributed about $7.3 million to Democratic candidates and committees since 2008, compared with roughly $4.5 million given to Republicans.

Yahoo! is one of the group’s largest contributors to Obama and Democrats, having donated more than $985,000 to Democrats since 2008 and more than $44,000 to Obama’s reelection campaign.

The company, its employees, and political action committee (PAC) have given $261,00 to Republicans and just $8,000 to Romney.

Newly appointed Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer is a prominent campaign bundler for the president, having raised more than $112,000 for the current cycle and $386,000 since 2007.

A similar disparity was found in the political activity of major firms Starbucks, Symantec, and Sprint.

The Seattle-based latte giant has given a venti-sized $234,000 to Democrats since 2008 and more than $15,000 to Obama, compared with $25,600 to Republicans and $2,800 to Romney.

Symantec has contributed at least $670,000 to Democrats, compared with $217,400 to Republicans. The security software firm, its employees, and PAC, meanwhile, have donated nearly $24,000 to the Obama campaign, compared with $5,600 to Romney.

Sprint has given a combined $1.1 million to Democrats since 2008, and more than $15,000 to Obama this cycle. The telecom company has donated $871,400 to the GOP, and about $8,000 to Romney.

Sprint’s manager of corporate responsibility, Amy Hargroves, told the Hill that without additional federal assistance, "progressive" businesses such as Sprint would have trouble meeting self-imposed goals for renewable energy consumption.

Scott Walter, executive vice president of the Capital Research Center, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that tracks political donations, said it was not surprising to see large corporations attempting to cash in on federal subsidies for green energy.

"There are few bigger corporate welfare scams than wind power," he told the Washington Free Beacon. The companies’ political donations, he said, gave the appearance of "payback run amok."

Many of companies are also members of a group called Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), a project of the sustainability firm Ceres.

As the letter implies, wind energy remains a relatively expensive power source, supplying just 3 percent of the country’s electricity.

The tax credit in question is part of a $200 billion tax extender package that passed out of the Senate Finance Committee in August but has yet to be brought to the floor for a vote. The issue is unlikely to be resolved until after the presidential election in November.

Obama has urged Congress to extend the tax credit, while Mitt Romney has proposed letting the credit expire in order to "create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits."

Sprint, Starbucks, Symantec, and Yahoo! all failed to return requests for comment.