Kennedy to Refund Donations From Fossil Fuel Lobbyist

A lobbyist for natural gas and pipeline companies gave Kennedy the legal maximum contribution, a violation of the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge that Kennedy signed.

Kennedy to Refund Donations From Fossil Fuel Lobbyist
Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.)

Months before he launched his primary bid against Green New Deal chief Senate sponsor Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) was pushed by Boston-area climate activists to co-sponsor the Green New Deal and sign the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge. Kennedy was initially hesitant to sign the pledge, telling the activists in a December 2018 meeting that he wanted to check in with his utility industry donors first so they wouldn’t see it as a surprise, according to multiple attendees spoken to by Sludge. But on December 10, 2018, Kennedy signed the pledge, committing not to take contributions over $200 from oil, gas, and coal industry executives, lobbyists, and PACs.

After signing the pledge, Kennedy received the legal maximum of $5,600 in campaign contributions from Tonio Burgos, a prominent lobbyist in the Northeast who for more than a decade has represented scores of fossil fuel companies. 

In his most recent lobbying disclosure in New Jersey, Burgos reported lobbying for South Jersey Industries, an energy services holding company with subsidiaries including SJI Utilities, a natural gas utility that serves approximately 700,000 customers, and SJI Midstream, which houses the companies’ share in the PennEast Pipeline project, a proposed project that would deliver fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale region to central New Jersey. 

While Kennedy talks a good game, often touting the fact that he is a signatory to this very pledge which he has broken, he does not walk the walk.

Evan Feldberg-Bannatyne, Sunrise Boston

Another of Burgos’ New Jersey clients is Public Service Enterprise Group, a utility company that operates a fleet of natural gas, coal, and oil-fired power plants in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, as well as one in Hawaii. The company also owns a utility business that serves 1.9 million natural gas customers in New Jersey. 

Asked about Burgos’ donations by Sludge, the Kennedy campaign said it will refund Burgos’ donations, explaining that they were not aware of his fossil fuel clients. Sludge asked the campaign how it reviews contributions for compliance with the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, but did not receive a response. Sludge also asked for confirmation that the refunds would be reflected on the campaign’s next Federal Election Commission filing, but did not receive a response to that question.  

For many years, Burgos was linked with Fortune 500 oil and gas company The Williams Companies, which paid him more than $1 million for lobbying in New York and at the federal level from 2007 until 2018. For years, The Williams Companies worked to win approval for its so-called Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline project that would have run beneath New York harbor and delivered fracked gas from Pennsylvania exclusively to the National Grid utility company. Burgos has also lobbied for National Grid in New York. 

“Upon learning the news that my current congressman has violated his commitment I am devastated, but not surprised,” said Sunrise Boston member and Kennedy constituent Evan Feldberg-Bannatyne, who was among the activists who met with Kennedy in 2018 about the pledge. “I’m devastated because as a young person, my future, my existence, is tied to how seriously our elected officials, such as Rep. Kennedy, tackle this climate crisis. While Kennedy talks a good game, often touting the fact that he is a signatory to this very pledge which he has broken, he does not walk the walk. That’s why I’m not surprised.”

Sunrise Boston and the national Sunrise Movement organization have endorsed Markey in the race. Early voting will run from Saturday, Aug. 22 to Friday, Aug. 28, ahead of the Sept. 1 election.

This is not the first time that Kennedy has had to return donations that violated the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge. In January, the Kennedy campaign refunded a total of $22,500 to 20 different donors that were in violation of the pledge, the Boston Globe reported.

Markey has also received donations from fossil fuel interests after signing the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge. In October 2019, Markey agreed to refund $46,900 in contributions to multiple donors. 

Kennedy launched his campaign in October 2019 with a fundraiser co-hosted by Joe Crowley, the former Democratic representative who was defeated by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and now works for lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs. Crowley is not a registered lobbyist, but his firm’s clients include oil and gas interests like Gulf Energy Alliance and Royal Dutch Shell. Crowley, who has contributed $2,800 to Kennedy’s campaign, is leading an initiative at a think tank aligned with a Shell-endorsed policy to end the gas tax. 

As Sludge has previously reported, Kennedy had up to $1.75 million invested in fossil fuel companies including Chevron and ExxonMobil through family trusts until recently when the trusts sold their shares in those companies. Kennedy, however, is not fully divested from fossil fuels. One of his trusts recently bought as much as $50,000 worth of stock in Berkshire Hathaway, a fossil fuel holding company that is among America’s most prolific toxic air polluters.

This article has been updated to add information about the Kennedy campaign’s prior refunds of donations that violate the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge.

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Dems Not Backing Green New Deal Took Far More Money From Oil and Gas Interests