Clean energy PAC backs Sen. Richard Burr, other Republicans

In this Aug. 26, 2014, photo Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. speaks during the American Legion national convention in Charlotte, N.C.
In this Aug. 26, 2014, photo Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. speaks during the American Legion national convention in Charlotte, N.C. AP

Coming soon to a Facebook news feed near you: a new political strategy aimed at helping Republican candidates like North Carolina’s Sen. Richard Burr overcome what supporters say is an unfair reputation that conservatives don’t care about the environment.

This week in North Carolina, ClearPath Action Fund, a conservative super PAC, plans to launch a near-half-million-dollar campaign in support of Burr’s re-election effort. The ad campaign is exclusively digital, with messages and videos appearing on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google.

Burr faces Democratic challenger Deborah Ross, a former North Carolina state representative and American Civil Liberties Union state chapter director. So far, polls find that neither has a firm lead.

Environment and energy issues have not been central to either candidate’s campaign. Ross has a section of her campaign site devoted to energy and environmental policy. Burr’s website lists some clean energy initiatives and environmental protection measures under his roundup of legislative accomplishments.

He’s more engaged on this issue than he’s ever been. And he’s a good senator, from my state, which matters.

ClearPath founder Jay Faison on Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

ClearPath endorsed Burr this week, citing his support of lowering federal taxes on alternative fuels, renewing the Land and Water Conservative Fund and supporting a planned hydropower project on the Yadkin River in Wilkes County, in the northwestern part of the state.

ClearPath is targeting “persuadable” voters in North Carolina, people who have previously voted for both Republicans and Democrats and may be willing to split their ballots in November, said founder Jay Faison, a North Carolina native.

A 2015 Gallup poll found that the issue of global warming and what should be done to address it is a highly partisan one. A Gallup poll from March found that 27 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats thought record high temperatures last year could be attributed to human-caused climate change.

“It’s not easy,” Faison said of his goal to make environmental protection and clean energy key Republican talking points.

Faison – a Charlotte, North Carolina, resident and son of the late Henry Faison, a prominent developer – launched ClearPath in 2013.

Republican elected officials historically have had no safe political space to lead on climate change issues, Faison said. His group wants to fill a vacuum in an arena where largely only Democratic-leaning environment groups have operated. For example, the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club have endorsed Ross.

The League of Conservation Voters’ legislative scorecard gives Burr a 7 percent lifetime rating on environmental issues.

Burr is one of six Republican incumbents in Congress whom Faison’s group has endorsed. The others are Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and U.S. Reps. Tom Reed and Elise Stefanik, both of New York, and Carlos Curbelo of Florida.

Another three endorsements will likely be announced next week, Faison told McClatchy in an interview Tuesday.

In the past, the League of Conservation Voters has campaigned against Burr. His record includes a 2011 anti-tax bill he co-sponsored – which did not become law – that would have changed federal air-quality laws and prevented the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

Burr has received a career total of more than $700,000 in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry, typically an industry forcefully opposed to environmental-protection regulations.

“It developed over time,” Faison said of Burr’s positions on key ClearPath issues. “He’s more engaged on this issue than he’s ever been. And he’s a good senator, from my state, which matters.”

If his group disqualified candidates who have ever taken money from the oil and gas industry from earning his endorsement, Faison said, “You might not have any Republicans left.”

ClearPath finds the middle or gray area on votes and issues when choosing to endorse candidates, Faison said, instead of taking an “all or nothing” stance.

Burr’s campaign did not comment on the ClearPath endorsement. Ross’ campaign pointed to her endorsements from the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club.

Campaign finance disclosure records show ClearPath Foundation has recently donated to three other North Carolina Republicans in Congress: U.S. Reps. Patrick McHenry and Richard Hudson and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis.

Anna Douglas: 202-383-6012, @ADouglasNews