Tory Perfetti had done a pretty good job.
His shiny purple and black tie hung from the approximate middle of his collar, and he hadn’t stumbled at all during his remarks to the journalists assembled at the Florida Press Association.
He introduced Stephanie Kunkel of Clean Water Action, the first of a half-dozen activists from across the spectrum gathered, literally, under the banner of Floridians for Solar Choice, Perfetti’s new group, which is arguing for a ballot initiative that would insert some pro-solar boilerplate into the state Constitution, plus allow homeowners with rooftop solar setups to sell electricity to their neighbors.
As Kunkel launched into her prepared remarks, the Floridians for Solar Choice banner came unstuck and crashed to the floor right behind her. Perfetti grimaced.
Here he was, the new face of a supposed conservative groundswell for alternative energy, a man of such astounding political skills that he’d brought in the Christian Coalition, the Tea Party, and the Libertarian Party of Florida to join the Sierra Club and your usual hippie suspects, yet he didn’t even know how to hang up a sign.
Not to worry — nobody took note of the weak adhesive holding up this hasty banner. The New Yorker, the Washington Post, NPR, and the local papers have all told the story they were given: it’s about green conservatives challenging the propaganda put out by Charles and David Koch; it’s about a new Green Tea Coalition, which in Bloomberg’s telling, “is reviving a Republican Party link with the Sierra Club that dates back more than a century to President Theodore Roosevelt.”
Right. Or maybe it’s just a couple of flakes who’ve been well paid by associates of California billionaire climate alarmist Tom Steyer.
If anybody should have picked up on that, it would be Chris Mooney, who has been blogging for the Washington Post since October on science and the environment. (Sample headline: “The science of why you really should listen to science and experts.”) Before that, he spent the better part of a decade writing for the warmist DeSmogBlog, which exists to slander anyone who raises questions about climate alarmism — all skepticism is paid shillwork, all opposition movements are Astroturf.
So I had to laugh when I saw Mooney’s byline under this Feb. 20 headline in the Post: “Solar energy’s new best friend is… the Christian Coalition.” The group’s president, Roberta Combs, had written a piece advocating more solar for Indiana, based on a verse… well, maybe in the back somewhere. Now, anybody’s who’s been following the Christian Coalition closely in recent years, which is nobody, would know that the group’s gotten rather far off from its original role as advocate for public morality.
In 1996, the Christian Coalition had revenues of $26.5 million, and its leaders, the Rev. Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed, enjoyed tremendous influence in Republican politics. The group fell on hard times after Robertson resigned in 2001 when he horrified conservatives by speaking in favor of China’s one-child policy. By the time five years later when Reed’s reputation was destroyed during the Jack Abramoff scandal, the Christian Coalition was $2 million in debt, and had little more than a mailing list, a voter guide, and name recognition.
Then Combs made some new friends on the left, at MoveOn and the National Wildlife Foundation, in particular. Pretty soon, her daughter Michele was showing up at conferences on the future of the Internet, arguing for Net neutrality. Her reason — and I don’t think she got it from a parody Twitter account — was that Comcast was blocking people from using BitTorrent to download the King James Bible. Because that’s what the kids are doing with BitTorrent.
I have no idea if the Christian Coalition got any grant money to advocate for Net neutrality — there was plenty floating around — but it’s gotten millions in support of its green agenda, which a more serious version of Mooney would have noticed.
According to tax records, a donor-advised fund called the Energy Foundation, which is supported by Steyer and his compatriots, wrote the Christian Coalition a dozen grants from 2011 to 2013, totaling $1,891,700. For an operation with a six-figure budget and a half-million dollars in unpaid bills, the money was a life-saver.
The Christian Coalition is the most prominent conservative group to lend its name to the campaign, but a handful of other groups with Tea Party or liberty in their name have also joined in. Among them is a longtime Tea Party activist named Debbie Dooley who has made solar energy her mission in life. The nascent Green Tea Coalition she founded has proven to be an irresistible media hook. Just last week, somebody flew her up to New York to speak alongside Al Gore at an energy conference.
Dooley’s arguments are nonsense — we’ll dissect them in a follow-up piece — but her ornamental value to the Steyer team is tremendous. If they’re the bipartisan moderates, that must make the other guys the self-serving extremists.
Enter Americans for Prosperity, the free market advocacy group supported by the Koch brothers, who have warned the state’s conservatives that “radical environmentalists, funded by Tom Steyer” are apparently “trying to take-over the conservative grassroots.”
“Floridians for Solar Choice is just a front group for The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), the real backer of this initiative,” AFP writes. “They have provided nearly 100% of the funding for FSC so far and their attorney is the campaign’s Treasurer. SACE is funded by the California-based Energy Foundation, with direct ties to Tom Steyer and other liberal activists.”
This is true. In its first three months, Floridians for Solar Choice has taken $358,697 in donations; all but $7,395 of that came from SACE. SACE, in turn, has gotten $2.5 million over the last three years from the Energy Foundation, which is supported by Steyer.
Steve Smith, the director of SACE, told the Tampa Bay Times that “there is no Tom Steyer money associated with this effort at this point.” Considering some of the carefully phrased non-denials that Steyer’s allies have been putting out lately, I’d interpret that quote to mean that Steyer is at least in the loop on this operation.
Rather than admit SACE was its backer, Dooley’s group accused AFP of running a “campaign of deception” and “resorting to outright lies.” You don’t need a degree in media studies to guess how that played.
But AFP has a point — two, actually. The economic case is so simple that it requires a journalist to misunderstand it, and we’ll get into that in a follow-up piece. But it’s AFP’s political argument that really ought to fire up the Tea Party against these few activists that have hijacked the name. AFP points out that the “ballot initiative will solidify in the Florida Constitution that ‘It shall be the policy of the state to encourage and promote’ solar electricity,” when the state shouldn’t be picking winners and losers.
That’s just boilerplate, Floridians for Solar Choice’s Perfetti argues.
“This initiative will not mandate the purchase of solar nor will you find anywhere in the ballot language anything which says that solar will be subsidized, so to say otherwise is false,” Perfetti says, as though he didn’t know solar already gets federal tax credits.
Dooley says that “legal language like ‘encourage and promote’ is common for this type of constitutional amendment, to make the broader intent of the amendment clear, so voters can understand it and legislators and regulators know they shouldn’t create new versions of the same barriers in the future.”
This is nonsense, and her friends at the Christian Coalition could tell her why. When the Federal Communications Commission seized control of the Internet in February in order to impose Net neutrality, it had virtually no legal authority to do so. The seizure was based on some generalities inserted into the Communications Act in 1996 calling on the Commission to “promote the continued development of the Internet and other interactive computer services and other interactive media” and “preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet… unfettered by Federal or State regulation.”
After years of Obama-inspired overreach by regulators using legalistic pretexts, why would anybody from the Tea Party want to enable more?
Last fall, a narrow majority on the state’s Public Service Commission voted to terminate Florida’s solar rebate program by the end of 2015. If you wanted the courts to reverse that decision, a Constitutional amendment like this would be a great place to start.
Now, the fact that Steyer or some like-minded associate gets to keep his name out of this doesn’t bother me. I think the billionaire activists on both sides spend far more on their messages than they could ever hope to gain by influencing policy. Dark money, as they call it, is no threat to democracy, and one reason for that is that so much of it goes to phony messages delivered by implausible messengers.
Just take a look at this Perfetti character. He’s the 33-year-old chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice and the director of Conservatives for Energy Freedom. He’s supposed to be the magnet of this coalition, but his only real political experience was a failed primary challenge of a Republican state representative three years ago.
Here’s what he had to say about illegal immigrants then:
“They don’t belong here. They don’t exist. We have to remove them from society. I’m a full supporter of checking in school, police pulling them over — the whole nine yards. Alabama, Arizona — go farther. We have got to remove them from this state.”
And we’re supposed to believe that the hippies at Greenpeace and the Sierra Club are marching to his orders? It ought to be obvious he’s a figurehead, a Republican as imagined by somebody who really hates Republicans. It’s not the money trails or the awful rhetoric that convinced me he isn’t running anything. It’s this witheringly factual description of him in the Tampa Bay Times, from his race three years ago:
“Perfetti is working on his bachelor’s degree in government relations at American Military University, an online school. He also works part-time as an account manager for GoodLiving magazine, a free publication based in Oldsmar, but his only declared income in 2011 was $5,469 from the National Guard. He also gets financial support from his mother, he said.”
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