Charlotte mogul dangles dollars to lure GOP to clean-energy agenda

Mogul weighs in on clean energy

Charlotte entrepreneur Jay Faison describes his crusade to sway Republicans to support clean energy.
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Charlotte entrepreneur Jay Faison describes his crusade to sway Republicans to support clean energy.

Charlotte, North Carolina, entrepreneur Jay Faison, who has plunged $165 million of his fortune into the fight against climate change, said Tuesday that his foundation is launching a $1 million Internet campaign to sway fellow Republicans to join in a conservative clean-energy agenda.

Faison also moved to raise his profile.

Appearing at the National Press Club, he said he had opened a Capitol Hill office, put $1.5 million of his money into a newly formed “super” political action committee and is raising millions of dollars more to back congressional candidates who support clean-energy alternatives.

He laid out more details of his one-man crusade to change the way conservatives approach the national energy debate, voicing support for new nuclear and hydroelectric power plants that don’t release greenhouse gases.

Support for clean energy, Faison said, is “critical for the longevity of the Republican Party.”

$1.5 millionThe amount Jay Faison has put into a “super” PAC to encourage Republicans to support clean energy

He cited polling commissioned by his organization that he said showed 72 percent of Republicans thought the United States should accelerate a shift to clean energy sources and away from coal-fired power plants, whose emissions are at the center of the global warming debate.

“The left has owned the clean energy debate for too long, and it’s time to go on offense,” he said. He eschews President Barack Obama’s approach of imposing sharp emissions curbs on power plants, which stirred fierce Republican opposition and has been frozen by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Faison has taken positions that might differ from many in the environmental community. His website, for example, argues in favor of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, known as fracking, saying it has lowered carbon emissions because natural gas burns more cleanly than oil or coal.

Faison initially rolled out his ClearPath Foundation last summer as a vehicle for transforming Republican policymakers’ attitudes about climate change. He barely uttered those two words Tuesday, however.

After getting pushback from some Republicans who question whether global warming is occurring, Faison recalibrated his campaign to focus on a “conservative clean-energy policy agenda” that nonetheless is aimed at fighting global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“We don’t have to agree on climate change to agree on conservative clean energy,” he said.

Faison, who’s 48, leaped into politics and policymaking after he sold his booming audiovideo supply business, SnapAv, about 2 1/2 years ago. He said Tuesday that he wanted “to give back in the prime of my life, rather than at the end of it.” He elected to focus on energy issues, he said, because “energy drives everything.”

We’ve had windmills and sunshine from the left, and ‘drill, baby, drill’ on the right. I felt like there was a vacuum in the middle around a conservative clean energy policy agenda. And that’s the void we’ll fill.

Charlotte entrepreneur Jay Faison

Since transferring most of the sale proceeds to the new foundation, Faison has formed the super PAC, which can make unlimited, independent expenditures on behalf of candidates. Besides his own contribution, he has raised $1 million in private donations for the political committee and hopes to raise several million more for a newly formed advocacy group that also can advertise in key races.

Starting next week, he said, ClearPath will run ads on the websites of 10 major publications in Washington.

His platform, he said, will focus on natural gas – which he said cut the most pollution – nuclear, hydropower and technologies for clean use of coal. He was asked why solar energy wasn’t on his agenda.

“We’re not against solar and wind,” Faison said. “They’re an important part of the solution, but they have limits. After a certain penetration into the market, they become more expensive because of the amount of backup power they need.”

Last year, Faison donated $50,000 to a super PAC backing the presidential campaign of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who recently dropped out of the race. Faison said Tuesday that he wouldn’t try to influence the presidential race.

“I don’t think I’m a big enough dog in that fight,” he said, while expressing confidence that his bankroll is sufficient to influence congressional campaigns.

Over the last year, Faison later told McClatchy, he and his expanding team have spoken with more than 100 members of Congress about clean energy.

Voters want these policies. . . . It’s not a hard sell to get members (of Congress) to want to help you with these kinds of things.

Jay Faison

During that span, Faison has made direct donations of more than $800,000 to Republican members of Congress and conservative congressional candidates and political committees.

For example, in December, Faison gave $5,000 to each of three so-called “leadership PACs” for North Carolina Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, as well as for Rep. Patrick McHenry, a deputy majority whip in the House of Representatives.

Over the coming months, Faison said with a grin, he may run up as many frequent flier points as Tillis as he shuttles back and forth to Washington.

“We’re kind of a one-trick pony,” he said. “This is our issue, and we’ll support people who support conservative clean energy.”

Greg Gordon: 202-383-0005, @greggordon2