Within weeks, the money began pouring in from major U.S. energy firms, which eventually contributed more than $2 million to American Solutions’ pro-drilling and anti-cap-and-trade campaign for the next two years, according to a review of disclosure reports and other records by The Washington Post.
The top contributors included Peabody Energy of St. Louis, which gave $825,000, and Devon Energy of Oklahoma City, which contributed $500,000.
The push marked a key turning point in Gingrich’s eclectic history on energy issues, which previously included alliances with Democrats such as former vice president Al Gore and consulting work for ethanol firms seeking to maintain lucrative federal subsidies.
The episode also illustrates the close financial ties between Gingrich and many of the interest groups whose causes he championed. The former House speaker has come under fire from his GOP rivals for taking tens of millions of dollars from Freddie Mac, health-care firms and other interest groups in the past decade.
In late May 2008, for example, Gingrich recorded an American Solutions video
that urged greater use of coal because “we have more coal than anyone else in the world.” Three weeks later, Peabody — the world’s largest coal producer — gave its first donation of $250,000 to Gingrich’s group.
Peabody spokeswoman Meg Gallagher said the firm donated because American Solutions “was advancing a balanced energy policy that sought greater production of all forms of energy, including coal.”
A campaign spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on Gingrich’s energy policies. A statement on the Gingrich campaign’s Web site says the candidate “believes that conservatives cannot be absent from the conversation about the environment” and that he “has supported pro-market, pro-entrepreneur, innovative solutions to our environmental challenges” throughout his career.
The influence of the American Solutions domestic-energy campaign can be seen in the way it helped shape the 2008 presidential race, as GOP nominee John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, adapted Gingrich’s slogan for their “Drill, baby, drill” rallying cry. Gingrich also credits the effort with helping to quash cap-and-trade legislation in Congress.
“I never favored cap and trade and actively testified against it,” Gingrich said on Fox News earlier this month. “Through American Solutions . . . we played a major role in defeating it.”
But a review of Gingrich’s public statements and advocacy activities in the past two decades paints a more complicated picture.
Gingrich frequently spoke in favor of cap-and-trade programs, which allow companies to buy and sell pollution credits, as a “green conservative” approach to limiting greenhouse gases. He was particularly fond of citing the success of a federal cap-and-trade effort focused on lowering sulfur dioxide emissions, which is credited with lessening the “acid rain” problem caused by coal-fired power plants.