Easy Being Green: Biden's Clean Energy Fundraisers Reap White House Rewards

Clean Energy for Biden leaders see admin promote their green investments after raising millions for campaign

President Joe Biden virtually tours a manufacturing plant for green energy company Proterra / YouTube Screenshot
May 13, 2021

Fundraising group Clean Energy for Biden raked in millions from industry professionals by promising unprecedented growth in "climate tech" should Democrats win the White House. Just months into President Joe Biden's tenure, its members are already seeing lucrative returns on their investments.

A team billing itself as "top clean energy business and policy leaders" launched the group in March 2020, according to its website. Members solicited donations from the industry's elite, arguing that then-candidate Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, which the group said would grow green energy "faster than ever before." 

The strategy paid off. Clean Energy for Biden raised at least $3.2 million to elect the Democrat. Following Biden's victory in November, members of the group became the Biden administration's "bridge to the private sector," according to CNBC.

Since then, the president has repeatedly boosted companies with direct financial ties to the group's leadership—a reflection of Clean Energy for Biden's role as a mechanism for well-connected green tech investors to twist arms at the White House in search of a profit.

Clean Energy for Biden cofounder Audrey Lee, for example, is a board member at ArcLight Clean Transition, SEC documents show. The company announced a merger with Proterra in January that will see the electric vehicle manufacturer go public this year. Fellow ArcLight board member Brian Goncher cohosted a Clean Energy for Biden fundraiser in August—Proterra cofounder and then-executive director Ryan Popple was a featured guest at the event.

Shortly after becoming president, Biden virtually toured Proterra's South Carolina plant before hosting company CEO Jack Allen at his State Department's Leaders Summit on Climate. The move sparked a barrage of ethics concerns from federal lawmakers given that Biden's energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, holds up to $5 million in Proterra stock. Biden's infrastructure package includes a $45 billion government investment in "clean, zero-emissions buses" such as those produced by the company.

Other Clean Energy for Biden leaders also stand to profit from the administration's promotion of Proterra. At least three members of the group's finance council work as partners at venture capital firms that list Proterra on their portfolios: Energy Impact Partners' Shayle Kann, Ajax Strategies' Veery Maxwell, and G2VP's Brook Porter. Popple left Proterra to join G2VP in February, according to LinkedIn.

Proterra isn't the only Clean Energy for Biden-connected company boosted by the administration. EVgo chief commercial officer Jonathan Levy also served on the group's finance council. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and national climate adviser Gina McCarthy visited the electric vehicle charging station company's Washington, D.C., facility in April to promote the infrastructure package. The legislation includes $15 billion to build 500,000 charging stations across the country.

The links between a major campaign finance group and Biden's push for billions in taxpayer funding for their projects could intensify conflict of interest complaints from Republicans as Biden holds infrastructure-related meetings with influential lawmakers this week. On Tuesday, Rep. Ralph Norman (R., S.C.) demanded that Granholm provide documents regarding the administration’s ties to Proterra following a Washington Free Beacon report.

Neither the White House nor Clean Energy for Biden returned requests for comment.

In addition to the group's financial interest in Biden's infrastructure package, at least seven Clean Energy for Biden leaders landed jobs in the administration. 

Co-chair Maggie Thomas and financial council member Jahi Wise work at the White House on climate-related issues, while co-chair Nicole Steele and executive council member Jigar Shah work under Granholm at the Department of Energy. 

Other executive council members serving in the Biden administration include Varun Sivaram, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, and Janea Scott. Sivaram is a senior adviser to climate envoy John Kerry. Sherwood-Randall—who served as deputy secretary of energy under former president Barack Obama—is now Biden's homeland security adviser. Scott, meanwhile, is a staffer in Biden's Interior Department.

The president himself attended a Clean Energy for Biden fundraiser during his 2020 campaign. Other prominent fundraiser attendees include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Democratic governors Gavin Newsom (Calif.), Gretchen Whitmer (Mich.), Michelle Lujan Grisham (N.M.), and Jay Inslee (Wash.). Sen. Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.) addressed the group on Tuesday, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D., Ore.) will speak to members in late May.

Clean Energy for Biden is in the process of announcing the board of directors and executive director for its spin-off group, Clean Energy for America. The political action nonprofit plans to support the Biden administration's "clean energy and equitable transition goals" and will hold members of Congress "accountable for their votes" through a campaign spending arm.