Anti-Coal Group Spends $400K to Help Strickland in Ohio

Outside spending comes after coal miners union endorses Portman

Ted Strickland
Ted Strickland / AP
July 14, 2016

The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group that advocates for "clean energy" policies, will spend $400,000 on the Ohio Senate race to help Democrat Ted Strickland defeat incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R.).

The group announced Wednesday that its "persuasion canvass campaign" will target voters in Cincinnati and Hamilton County, far from Ohio’s southeastern coal-country voters, a key voting block in the race. The League of Conservation Voters lobbies against coal-fired power plants and supports President Obama’s environmental policies.

Strickland, once the state’s governor, faces challenges from groups supporting coal-industry workers because of his ties to anti-coal groups. Last month, the United Mine Workers of America, a union of coal miners, endorsed Portman for reelection, despite having supported Strickland in the past.

"Senator Portman has repeatedly defended Ohio coal families and energy consumers against radical environmental special interests, so it’s not surprising they [the League of Conservation Voters] oppose him in favor of an ally like Ted Strickland," Christian Palich, the president of the Ohio Coal Association, told the Washington Free Beacon on Thursday.

The League of Conservation Voters, which is based in Washington, D.C., advocates for wind and solar power and has made keeping "dirty fuels in the ground" a policy objective of its 2016 plan of action.

"Building on our success stopping the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, we will work with our allies to promote policies that keep dirty fuels in the ground and prevent new extraction of fossil fuels on public lands. This will include seeking to limit offshore drilling, reform coal leasing, and push for permanent protections for the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans," the plan states.

A proponent of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the group expressed strong disagreement with the Supreme Court’s ruling in February that put a hold on the Obama administration’s regulations on coal-fired power plant emissions after 29 states sued the president over the rules.

The League of Conservation Voters also lobbied against efforts to curb the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations on these plants in 2014 by opposing the Coal Country Protection Act, legislation that would have prohibited the EPA from regulating emissions of some coal power plants.

The group named Portman to its "Dirty Dozen" list of targeted candidates despite having endorsed the senator’s bipartisan energy efficiency legislation in the past.

Strickland has come under scrutiny for his leadership position at the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C. think tank that advocates for progressive environmental policies. Strickland led the think tank’s lobbying arm shortly before announcing his candidacy for Senate. One of Strickland’s former colleagues was an EPA administrator who developed Obama’s climate change plan.

Republicans have also criticized Strickland for refusing to denounce Hillary Clinton’s statement in Ohio earlier this year that she would "put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business." Strickland described her comments as "unartful" in an interview with the Free Beacon but said Clinton was right to suggest that coal jobs are dying.

Strickland celebrated an endorsement from the League of Conservation Voters’ political committee in March, touting the clean energy industry as a "tremendous source of opportunity for Ohio."

The green group’s canvassing effort is the latest influx of cash in the 2016 election cycle’s most expensive Senate race. Strickland’s campaign has fundraised off of its independence from outside group spending and super PACs—though the Democrat has benefitted from both in recent months.

"[Strickland] has the worst record of any Senate candidate in the country and is the beneficiary of more outside spending, over $30 million, than any candidate in America," Portman campaign spokeswoman Michawn Rich said in a statement. "This new spending is just another example of outside special interest groups coming in to rescue his struggling campaign."

The Strickland campaign did not respond to a request for comment about the environmental groups’s canvassing campaign on its behalf.

The Ohio Senate race is one of the most contentious in the nation, though recent polling from Quinnipiac University shows Portman expanding a lead over his competitor after the endorsement by the miners union. The incumbent senator leads Strickland by seven points with Ohio voters, according to a survey released Thursday.