Two nonprofit groups with reported links to the energy industry funneled thousands of dollars of dark money into South Carolina’s 4th District House race in an apparent effort to boost GOP candidates ahead of Tuesday’s crowded primary.
Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) and the Conservative Leadership Alliance (CLA), two 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations, combined spent more than $100,000 in the race. As nonprofits, neither group is required to disclose who is funding that spending.
CRES spent more than $56,000 supporting Republican candidate William Timmons since the beginning of June, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings.
And CLA spent more than $50,000 in the South Carolina race last Thursday, according to the FEC. The group spent roughly half that money supporting GOP candidate Josh Kimbrell, while the other half went to oppose Lee Bright, another Republican candidate in the 4th District race.
The two nonprofits’ forays into the South Carolina race came just weeks before Tuesday’s primary, where 13 Republican candidates battled for a chance to replace Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). Gowdy announced his retirement from Congress earlier this year.
CLA’s efforts to back Kimbrell appear to have failed. Bright and Timmons knocked Kimbrell and the other 10 GOP candidates out of the race on Tuesday and will go head-to-head in a runoff for the Republican spot on June 26, the Post and Courier reported.
CRES and CLA both have ties to the energy industry and policy. CRES works to engage Republicans in clean energy policy, while CLA’s treasurer is a lobbyist for an Ohio-based electric company.
CRES announced it would back Timmons in early June, citing his support for pro-solar energy policy as a South Carolina state legislator. The Huffington Post reported in 2015 that CRES received money from two nonprofits often linked to groups that support liberal causes. Similar to CRES, neither of those groups — the Advocacy Fund and the Trust for Energy Innovation — have disclosed its donors.
James Dozier, CRES’s president, told the Huffington Post at the time that 800 donors and 5,000 conservation activists supported the group.
CRES spent more than $1.5 and $1.4 million in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, respectively. In 2018 federal elections, the nonprofit has only reported spending in the South Carolina primary.
Little is known about CLA. Its primary purpose, it states on its website, is to “put conservative policies into action.”
Marc Himmelstein, CLA’s treasurer, has worked for years as a lobbyist for an Ohio-based electric company called FirstEnergy, the Center for Public Integrity reported in May. FirstEnergy has given National Environmental Strategies — Himmelstein’s firm — $640,000 since 2010, according to the center. The firm shares a Washington, D.C. address with CLA.
CLA spent $56,500 opposing Republican House candidate and Ohio legislator Christina Hagan in the state’s 16th District primary last May, after she declined to support a bill lobbied by FirstEnergy, the Center for Public Integrity reported. Hagan told the center she believed the bill, which would have boosted FirstEnergy’s income by $300 million annually, was unfair to its customers. She lost the primary to Anthony Gonzalez, a former NFL football player that CLA spent another $56,500 supporting.
CLA has spent roughly $934,000 on races during the 2018 election cycle. About 58 percent of those expenditures went into South Carolina’s 5th District special election in 2017.