By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN, Neb. — U.S. Senate Republicans call Bold Nebraska a faux grassroots group used by non-Nebraska billionaires to funnel money to advance their political agenda, according to a report released Wednesday.
Bold Nebraska has coordinated much of the opposition to the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline in Nebraska through homespun protests, yard signs and ad campaigns, but the report by the minority staff of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works accuses the group of being “an arm of the Billionaire’s Club.”
“It is nothing more than a shield for wealthy and distant non-Nebraskan interests who seek to advance a political agenda without drawing attention to the fact that they, too, are outsiders with little connection to the state,” the report says.
Bold Nebraska immediately used the report as ammunition in a fundraising appeal, urging its supporters to chip in $25 to show Republicans the “grassroots support of citizens is what powers Bold Nebraska.”
“It is disgusting that Republicans are using taxpayer money to attack citizen-led groups working to protect our property rights and water,” Bold Nebraska executive director Jane Kleeb said via email. “I anxiously await the same report outlining campaign donations from Big Oil and the various front-groups doing corporations’ bidding. Bold Nebraska takes marching orders from farmers and ranchers and we invite the writers of this report to come visit and see our actions in person.”
While the nonprofit Bold Nebraska has portrayed itself as a grassroots group, the report contends that’s a façade for a “significant, growing, well-funded and well-organized financial support network originating from wealthy far-left environmental interests thousands of miles away.”
The report cites a recent New York Times profile of Bold Nebraska founder Jane Kleeb in which she talks about what it called “her strategy for selling the grassroots charm of the group to moneyed elites” like California billionaire Tom Steyer. The report says Steyer has a conflict of interest in opposing the pipeline project because he has had a financial stake in a competing pipeline called Kinder Morgan. Last month, Steyer told the Washington Post he had divested himself of all fossil fuel energy holdings.
The report says the San Francisco-based, George Soros-funded Tides Foundation donated $50,000 to Bold Nebraska in 2012 and its arm called the Advocacy Fund gave $15,000 — accounting for one-third of Bold Nebraska’s total contributions that year.
Last year, the Tides Foundation donated $90,000 to Bold Nebraska, the report says.
The report also dings Bold Nebraska’s “New Energy Voter” initiative, saying out-of-state environmental groups like the California-based Sierra Club and New York-based 350.org have used it to get anti-pipeline candidates elected. The report questioned whether 350.org, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, exceeded its tax-exempt status by participating in political campaigns.
“While Bold Nebraska is essentially a tool for the Billionaire’s Club and their allies opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline, many in the state remain oblivious to this fact,” the report said. “Moreover, President Obama has supported Bold Nebraska and the billionaire funders’ efforts by not authorizing the pipeline despite broad public opinion favoring its construction.”
The voter initiative was created to get people elected who will push for more investment in clean, renewable energy, Bold Nebraska said, since Nebraska ranks 46th in the nation for renewable energy generation.
Kleeb’s email to supporters called the report “hyper-partisan” and said it failed to mention Big Oil contributions to its Republican authors. On average, Republicans on the committee received $736,650 in contributions from Big Oil and other fossil fuel corporations since 1999, she said.
The report also conveniently omitted “tens of millions” that Big Oil funnels to lobbyists and truly faux grassroots groups like Nebraskans for Jobs & Energy Independence, created by a TransCanada lobbyist and the local head of the building trade union that backs the Keystone XL pipeline, Kleeb added.
“Bold Nebraska takes our marching orders from farmers and ranchers, and we invite the authors of this report to come visit Nebraska and witness our actions in person,” she wrote in a fundraising appeal. “This latest attack on Bold Nebraska shows how powerful Big Oil can be when it calls in its chits on all the campaign contributions it gives to Congress.”
Randy Thompson, a Republican cattleman whose Nebraska land was in the path of the original Keystone XL pipeline route and whose image is Bold Nebraska’s mascot, said he takes offense at the GOP attack.
“A report such as this coming from the GOP, who proudly carries the Koch Brothers’ banner, is the pinnacle of hypocrisy,” he said in a statement released by Bold Nebraska. “I take great offense at their attacks on Jane Kleeb and Bold Nebraska. Ms. Kleeb has been doing for Nebraska farmers and ranchers what our own Republican elected officials should have been doing but refuse to do. I think it says a lot about the GOP when they take issue with someone who is actually standing up for people’s property rights instead of the interests of multinational corporations.”
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