Climate of Unaccountability
With President Trump putting economic growth above climate alarums, green activists are turning to progressive states to press their regulatory agenda. Governors from 15 states have formed the U.S. Climate Alliance, for example, to enforce the Paris Climate Agreement despite Mr. Trump’s withdrawal. Fair enough if it’s all above board, but records we’ve obtained suggest that foundations are steering policy behind the scenes without transparency or clear public accountability.
A leading example is Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s office, which seems to have subcontracted some of its work and budget to two foundations pushing an activist climate agenda. An environmental nonprofit, the World Resources Institute, actually hired Washington’s state government as a contractor last July.
Under this remarkable arrangement, the state agreed to perform a “scope of work” for the nonprofit that includes “activities and deliverables” to advance a green agenda. The special-interest tail is officially wagging the democratic dog, given that the contract provides the job framework for Mr. Inslee’s senior policy adviser for climate and sustainability, Reed Schuler.
According to Mr. Schuler’s official job description, his duties include working to “identify policy ideas,” “draft policy proposals and briefs for communication to Policy Director and Governor’s executive team,” and “prepare letters, executive orders, and other directives for the Governor’s signature.” Beyond the executive branch, Mr. Schuler is also involved in “monitoring progress of clean energy legislation” and representing Washington “among multi-state and international efforts.”
In other words, he holds an influential policy position. And it’s funded through a grant from the World Resources Institute, which reimburses Washington for Mr. Schuler’s salary, benefits and expenses. Under its contract, Washington State sends progress reports alongside its $33,210 quarterly invoices to the nonprofit.
Tara Lee, the Governor’s spokeswoman, says Mr. Schuler is “a Washington state employee with the same scope of work, review process and accountability as any other state employee. The only difference is the funding source.” She adds the World Resources Institute’s largesse amounts to “general support for expanding the Inslee Administration’s work to combat climate exchange,” but that “they do not decide or dictate the details of this work, nor do they have input on any employee’s work plan.” And she says such arrangements are “not unusual.”
World Resources Institute spokesman Michael Oko says that “public-private partnerships enable governments to hire experts to advise them on policies that benefit their constituents,” adding that they are “common across the political spectrum.” Oh?
If this is common practice, Washingtonians deserve more details about which outside groups fund Mr. Inslee’s policy team. Substitute the Koch brothers for the World Resources Institute, and the outrage would be predictable. This setup creates real concerns about accountability and interest-peddling. Mr. Schuler knows who pays him, and it’s not Washington taxpayers.
The money trail also extends to the Hewlett Foundation, which pledged in December to devote $600 million to climate advocacy in the U.S. and abroad between 2018 and 2023. Hewlett calls this its “single largest commitment to date in any area of its philanthropic work,” and it is overseen by Jonathan Pershing, Mr. Schuler’s former colleague at Barack Obama’s State Department.
In one of many emails obtained by the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Chris Horner, Mr. Inslee’s Morocco-based climate adviser, Chris Davis, called Mr. Schuler “our refugee from Kerry’s office at State” and said that “Pershing at Hewlett is paying him to work in our shop for 12 months.” In another email, Mr. Davis said that Mr. Schuler is “here through support from the Hewlett Foundation.”
The Governor’s office claims it’s transparent, but our records request about Mr. Schuler’s hiring and employment documents yielded no mention of Hewlett. When we inquired about the foundation’s role, spokeswoman Tara Lee copied the executive director of policy, Keith Phillips, and answered: “I have confirmed that Hewlett Foundation made a grant to WRI. No direct relationship to WA.”
But the same Mr. Phillips sent out a July 18 email that internally announced Mr. Schuler’s hiring. He explicitly stated, “Reed’s position is being supported by the Hewlett Foundation and the World Resources Institute.” Hewlett spokeswoman Vidya Krishnamurthy told us that while “we didn’t have the capacity to be the state’s partner,” it made the World Resources grant “so that WRI could provide support to Washington state to hire an expert analyst to help the state achieve its climate goals.”
The implications of all this extend beyond Washington. Mr. Inslee is working with New York’s Andrew Cuomo and California’s Jerry Brown on the U.S. Climate Alliance, a multistate effort. Where else are such special interest groups paying to influence policy?
Appeared in the January 12, 2018, print edition.