Senate Finance Committee Dems Said They'd Fight Dark Money. They Just Fawned Over a Liberal Dark Money Operative.

During hearing, Michigan's Debbie Stabenow says she's worked with environmental dark money group 'forever'

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
May 24, 2023

When Democrats took the Senate Finance Committee gavel in 2021, they promised to "take on" dark money groups. Roughly two years later, those Democrats fawned over a dark money operative they invited to testify at a committee hearing.

Committee Democrats last week invited BlueGreen Alliance legislative director Katie Harris to testify in favor of the so-called Inflation Reduction Act, President Joe Biden's signature spending bill that allocated hundreds of billions of dollars to fight climate change. Throughout the hearing, the committee's liberal members turned to Harris to defend the legislation. They also offered extensive praise for BlueGreen Alliance, a political nonprofit that does not disclose its donors. "I want to thank the BlueGreen Alliance, who I've been working with seems like forever," Michigan Democratic senator Debbie Stabenow said during the hearing.

Harris's inclusion in the hearing—and Stabenow's praise for BlueGreen Alliance—flies in the face of Senate Finance Committee Democrats' intense rhetoric against dark money. When Democrats took control of the powerful committee in 2021, Chairman Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) told CNBC he planned to "take on the uber-wealthy, dark money groups, and special interest organizations." Fellow committee member Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.), meanwhile, last year called dark money a "seeping poison" that poses an existential threat to democracy. Whitehouse in 2021 also partnered with committee colleague Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) to urge the Biden administration to "reign in abuse by 'dark money' organizations."

"Americans are sick and tired of special interests buying their voices under an avalanche of dark money that wields power over our political system at every level," Wyden said in 2018.

But BlueGreen Alliance is intimately familiar with that power. The nonprofit, which counts a number of labor unions and other environmental organizations as members, is a known partner of Democracy Alliance, a shadowy network of liberal millionaires and billionaires that funds left-wing groups and liberal candidates. In 2014, the network included BlueGreen Alliance on its "Progressive Infrastructure Map," which highlighted groups that deep-pocketed donors should support given their work to "drive the progressive agenda."

Neither BlueGreen Alliance nor Senate Finance Committee Democrats returned requests for comment.

In her opening statement, Harris—who "leads the alliance's federal policy efforts on … climate change"—touted the Inflation Reduction Act as landmark legislation that would "increase diversity in the construction workforce by expanding access for women, people of color, veterans, and formerly incarcerated people." She also claimed the law would help address racial and economic inequality and create more than 9 million jobs in the next decade. In addition to her testimony, the alliance's website includes an Inflation Reduction Act User Guide to walk readers through the legislation's provisions.

The alliance's member organizations include the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Service Employees International Union, all of whom endorsed Biden in 2020. BlueGreen Alliance's members have combined to donate nearly $3 million to the Senate Finance Committee's Democratic members, federal campaign finance disclosures show.

BlueGreen Alliance is far from the only shadowy environmental group that partners with leading Democrats. The Energy and Policy Institute—a favorite among liberal lawmakers and mainstream media outlets working to criticize the oil and gas industry and the dark money networks supporting it—is organized in a way that allows it to conceal both its owners and funders, the Washington Free Beacon reported in May. Still, that has not stopped top Democrats from working with the institute. Whitehouse in June 2021 cited the group's research in a letter that demanded the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission change its rules to stop energy utilities from secretly funding lobbying groups.

While neither BlueGreen Alliance nor its affiliate organization, BlueGreen Alliance Foundation, discloses donors, some of the groups' contributors are known publicly. Energy company Phillips 66 roughly a decade ago voluntarily disclosed that it gave the alliance $25,000. The alliance has also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from liberal foundations such as the Hewlett Foundation and Schmidt Family Foundation, according to the foundations' disclosures.