Environmentalist Millionaire Candidate Heavily Invested in Fossil Fuels

Minnesota Dem Dean Phillips holds up to $150,000 in company behind Dakota Access Pipeline

Dean Phillips
Dean Phillips

Millionaire congressional hopeful Dean Phillips invested as much as $2 million in energy companies even as he criticized Rep. Erik Paulsen (R., Minn.) for supporting fossil fuel development.

Phillips, a Minnesota liquor heir, is campaigning as an environmentalist in a bid to win a crowded Democratic primary and unseat Paulsen, a five-term congressman. He has supported a massive carbon tax as well as a shift away from automobiles to cut down on emissions.

"I care about the environment and I'd like to see fewer cars burning fossil fuels," he said at a May townhall with voters. "Anybody who argues that a carbon tax would kill jobs is simply, fundamentally misguided."

A 2013 report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said a carbon tax would hurt the economy by driving up prices on all goods. In addition to people paying higher prices for electricity and fuel, a carbon tax would also lead to lost wages and a decrease in investment. The increase in energy costs would hit poor Americans and blue-collar workers hardest of all due to the "largest decrease in demand for their products."

"Such a tax would have a negative effect on the economy. The higher prices it caused would diminish the purchasing power of people's earnings, effectively reducing their real (inflation-adjusted) wages," the report says. " Lower real wages would have the net effect of reducing the amount that people worked, thus decreasing the overall supply of labor. Investment would also decline, further reducing the economy’s total output."

Phillips's financial records show that the environmentally conscious candidate has no problem profiting off of automakers and fossil fuels. He has invested between $780,000 and $2 million in energy companies and major car companies. He held stocks valued between $65,000 and $150,000 in Energy Transfer Partners, owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline that has inspired numerous protests and arrests from radical environmental activists.

Phillips took aim at the Republican's history of receiving donations from oil giant Exxon Mobil, a company that Phillips has invested in.

"While Erik's taken money from the NRA, the Koch Brothers, and Exxon Mobile, Dean isn't taking a dime," the campaign said in a fundraising email. Phillips has raised about $800,000—more than the rest of the Democratic field combined. More than 90 percent of contributions came from "large individual contributions," according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Paulsen has received $430,000 from energy companies and their employees since he first ran for Congress in 2007, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Paulsen campaign manager John-Paul Yates said Phillips's investment portfolio demonstrates his hypocrisy as a candidate.

"Dean Phillips's vast inherited wealth is invested in companies the Bernie crowd loves to attack, he's got a lot of explaining to do before he can become the Democratic nominee," he said.

The Phillips campaign did not respond to request for comment.

Phillips is one of four Democrats seeking to challenge Paulsen in November. Paulsen won re-election in 2016 with 57 percent of the vote, down from 62 percent in 2014. National Democrats are targeting the district, though Cook Political Report and other observers consider the seat as "leans Republican." The primary is scheduled for August.

Update 3:53 p.m.: A previous version of this piece said Phillips was a billionaire. He is currently only a multi-millionaire.