“Katie McGinty has profited from her trips through the revolving door between the public and private sectors while leaving a path of disaster in her wake. McGinty is a former government official who used her position to direct taxpayer funds to her future corporate employers. If Pennsylvanians couldn’t trust Katie McGinty in Harrisburg, how could we trust her in Washington?” — PA GOP Communications Director Megan Sweeney
McGinty’s environmental work hit from both sides in Pennsylvania
By Kevin Robillard
February 19, 2016
Katie McGinty’s Pennsylvania Senate campaign has many strengths – including endorsements from current and former Democratic governors.
One thing she can’t claim, though is “outsider” status, ahead of what’s shaping up to be an outsider election. And though McGinty’s environmental resume has been one of her key strengths, leading the League of Conservation Voters to endorse her, both Democrats and Republicans have started hammering her long record on energy in government and the private sector.
McGinty was an Al Gore staffer who helped push a clean water bill through a GOP-controlled Congress in the 1990s, and she supported alternative energy in Pennsylvania as the state environmental secretary. But her resume also includes what Republicans call trips through the “revolving door,” onto the boards of big energy companies. Meanwhile, Democrats are criticizing her for being too friendly toward fracking, a hot-button issue for Pennsylvania progressives.
“I’m the only candidate in this race who has dedicated their entire career to protecting the environment, taking on the climate change crisis, actually building a clean energy economy,” McGinty told POLITICO in an interview. “That’s my record. It’s a strong record. It’s a record that I’m proud of. I guess, in politics, people try to take down those things that are some of your strongest accomplishments.”
It’s a pattern across the Senate landscape. Democrats have recruited a number of candidates with experience in government or running for statewide office, and Republicans are trying to turn that around on them – as they’ve watched outsiders lead by Donald Trump rampage through their presidential primary.
Already, Republicans have attacked Ohio Democrat Ted Strickland for both his time as governor of the state and his experience running the political arm of the liberal Center for American Progress. They’re hitting Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold on his old Senate record and for his time leading Progressives United, a PAC he founded to back liberal candidates.
McGinty faces a similar double-pronged set of attacks. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has already highlighted McGinty’s ties to the energy industry, releasing a web video featuring an actual revolving door. GOP Sen. Pat Toomey’s campaign released a web video on Thursday hitting McGinty for working for “notorious D.C. law firms” and “corporate special interests that receive millions in taxpayer benefits.”
The candidate insists voters will see her time at several environmental and energy firms in the private sector as an asset, not a drawback.
“When you talk to people about what they’re concerned about in Washington, people don’t like career politicians,” McGinty said. “And when I say I’ve spent my whole career protecting the environment, leading in creating wind energy jobs and solar energy jobs, and I’ve also run businesses and I’ve helped to grow businesses, I also bring a perspective of not drowning things in paperwork and not drowning things in red tape. … People think that’s an asset and a job qualification.”
The GOP points especially to McGinty’s time at NRG, the energy corporation she joined after serving as secretary for Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection. Three months before she left the job, she traveled to NRG’s headquarters in New Jersey for a meeting with the company’s board and CEO. Two months after she left state government, McGinty joined the same board. She stayed there until 2013, eventually earning more than $1 million in stock and cash payments. During her tenure on the board, the company expanded its investments in natural gas and wind and solar energy, something McGinty has said she encouraged.
But in December, long-time NRG CEO David Crane stepped down after the company’s share price dropped nearly sixty percent in a single year. The Wall Street Journal attributed his resignation, in part, to “investor unhappiness over his investments investments in renewable energy.” Three months earlier, the company had spun off its solar power division.
NRG employees contributed just more than $19,000 to her failed 2014 gubernatorial run and, so far, $2,750 to her bid for Senate. And while McGinty has touted herself in the past as a “job-creating environmentalist,” Republicans argue NRG’s experience shows that’s an inherent contradiction.
“Katie McGinty might brag about being a job creator on the campaign trail, but her role at one of the nation’s largest utility companies left a much different legacy,” NRSC spokeswoman Alleigh Marre said. “NRG saw stock prices plummet and their CEO resign amid investor unhappiness with the investments McGinty championed.”
McGinty scoffed. “It has absolutely nothing to do with NRG’s leadership in solar energy that the bottom has fallen out of energy markets,” she said. “… There’s no question that when I was on the board, when we were the leading investor in renewable energy systems, that that was creating thousands of jobs.” (Her campaign also notes McGinty was just a lone board member, and can’t be held responsible for the company’s overall direction.)
Meanwhile, McGinty also faces pressure from the other side of the aisle. Though she notes Pennsylvania led the country in wind energy job creation when she worked for then-Gov. Ed Rendell and was third in solar jobs, Democratic primary opponents Joe Sestak and John Fetterman have focused on her support for fracking – which places her out of step with party members in the state.
In a June 2014 Quinnipiac poll , 48 percent of Pennsyvlania Democrats in the state opposed fracking, while 41 percent supported it. In 2013, the state Democratic Party voted for a moratorium on the practice until it could be done “safely.”
In 2011, McGinty testified before Congress that fracking fluids were “very unlikely to contaminate drinking water.” But during the campaign, she has called for tougher regulations on the process.
McGinty took a rare shot at her primary rivals over the issue: “I do think I’ve been consistent, where my colleagues in the race have not necessarily been consistent.”
Fetterman and Sestak now both call for a moratorium on fracking until regulations are stiffened and an extraction tax is in place, but they praised the practice in the past. When he launched his campaign in September, Fetterman said “the reality is that fracking is here to stay.” In his campaign e-book, “Walking In Your Shoes To Restore The American Dream,” Sestak acknowledged natural gas was “a cheap, reliable source of domestic energy from which we all prosper.”
Sestak’s campaign would not comment, simply pointing to a recent York Daily Record op-ed from the former congressman calling for a moratorium.
“Katie McGinty calls herself an environmentalist, but she used her government post to help the coal industry, then left to make millions working with the same polluters,” Fetterman spokeswoman Leslie Wertheimer said, referring to a permit McGinty approved for a coal plant whose owners later donated to her campaign. “She needs to come clean about where her money’s been coming from.”
McGinty said Fetterman and Sestak were trying to make up for their lack of a record on green issues.
“All the candidates in the race have individuals who work in and around the energy industry that are supporting them in the campaign,” she said. “The question is: Do you have a track record of fighting for the environment? And I’m the only person in the race with that track record.”
To read the entire report from Kevin Robillard, please click here.