Bernie Sanders’ desperately oily smear

    Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders

    Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders

    How desperate is Bernie Sanders? Dire enough to smear Hillary Clinton as a tool of fossil fuel.

    This kind of thing typically happens when a candidate crunches the delegate math and realizes that the end is near. Bernie could win tonight in Wisconsin, yet barely dent her daunting lead. Heck, his aides are already conducting postmortems in the press, fretting about his impending defeat. So it’s understandable that Bernie would lash out, flailing wildly with a charge that has no basis in fact. The guy is only human.

    Still, he did promise us a “revolution,” a break from politics as usual. How shocking (not) that he’d wind up playing politics at its worst.

    The smear, leveled against Clinton last Friday, took various forms. Sanders personally did the honors on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” I’m italicizing the key words: “The fact of the matter is, Secretary Clinton has taken significant money from the fossil fuel industry.”

    His campaign also put out a statement: “Secretary Clinton has relied heavily on funds from lobbyists working for the oil, gas, and coal industry.”

    Sanders is insinuating that Clinton — after supposedly taking so much “significant money,” after relying “heavily” on that money — has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel interests that perpetuate climate change.

    Truth is, he’s peddling snake oil.

    First of all, Clinton hasn’t taken any money from “the fossil fuel industry.” It’s illegal to accept money directly from corporations, and Sanders has no evidence of any such chicanery. She has taken money from individuals who work for fossil fuel companies. Some may have donated because they want her to help their industry; some may have donated simply because they like her. Who knows. But here’s the key stat: As of March 21, the tallied donations from those individuals comes to $308,000.

    Thus far, Clinton’s campaign has raised roughly $160 million. Do the math. Care to guess what share of her total haul is attributable to the fossil fuel employes?

    0.2 percent.

    I don’t know what dictionary Sanders uses, but I question whether 0.2 percent meets the definition of “significant money.” In fact, the fossil fuel industry, via its workforce, doesn’t even crack Clinton’s top 20.

    Sanders and his allies have tried to inflate Clinton’s fossil fuel tally by claiming that she has also “relied heavily” on money funnelled to her campaign by lobbyists “working for” the fossil fuel industry. And it’s true that some lobbyists raise campaign money; nicknamed “bundlers,” they solicit donations and deliver them to favored candidates.

    But Sanders’ complaint is a crock for one obvious reason: Lobbyists work for a lot of different clients. One Clinton bundler, Heather Podesta, has represented fossil fuel clients — but she also has two renewable energy clients. Ben Klein, a lobbyist for the oil industry, also represents America Airlines, Cigna, and Hearst; as one fact-checker points out, “his contributions to the Clinton campaign could also be labeled as funds [from the] airline, insurance, or media industry.”

    And even if we were to assume that every single Clinton-friendly lobbyist dollar comes from the fossil fuel industry, the maximum amount — as tallied by Sanders’ friends at Greenpeace — is roughly $1.8 million. Which means that Clinton’s fossil fuel footprint (lobbyists and fossil fuel employes), as a share of her total haul, is … wait for it!

    0.8 percent.

    And even if we were to rewrite the dictionary and conclude that 0.8 percent qualifies as significant or heavily reliant, where’s the evidence that Clinton has been bought? Is Sanders citing any of her positions as proof that fossil fuel interests are pulling her strings? Nope. If he had any proof, we’d be hearing about it 24/7.

    In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite. Clinton reportedly accepted donations from lobbyists who once worked for TransCanada, the company that sought to build the Keystone pipeline; last September, she came out in opposition to the Keystone pipeline. She, like Sanders, has been consistently touting renewable energy, and seeks to dun the fossil fuelers by hiking their taxes or cutting their loopholes. And if we check her Senate tenure, we find that, in 2005, she voted against the fossil fuel lobby’s pet energy bill — The Washington Post called it “a pinata of perks for energy industries” — which featured oil and gas exemptions from clean water laws, and easier permits for oil wells on public lands.

    But here’s the best way to put Sanders’ smear in perspective:

    According to the watchdogs who track campaign money, 97.7 percent of all fossil fuel-related donations have gone to the Republicans. That’s the true contrast in this race. Sanders, in his last-ditch bid to capture 66 percent of the remaining delegates (good luck), is merely impugning Clinton with innuendo. Seriously, how many purists can dance on the head of a pin? He’s wasting his time, and ours.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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