UPDATE: Shortly after this article was published, Karen Carter Peterson said that she would refund the donations she received that violate the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge. This article has been updated to reflect that.
In Louisiana’s Second Congressional District, which includes an area of extreme petrochemical pollution called Cancer Alley, two Democrats are heading toward an April 24 runoff to win the House seat formerly held by Rep. Cedric Richmond, who has joined the Biden administration. With new chemical plants slated to be built and toxic air pollution getting worse in the district, independence from the polluting companies has been a prominent theme in the contest.
In early March, frontrunner Troy Carter signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, promising not to take donations larger than $200 from any PAC, executive, or lobbyist of fossil fuel companies. But Carter recently filed his pre-runoff campaign finance reports, and Sludge found that he took at least nine large donations in violation of the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge violated the pledge. Carter’s campaign has not responded to inquiries from Sludge or the pledge organizers.
The pledge’s primary organizer, Oil Change U.S., reviewed the donations and confirmed to Sludge that they are violations.
“We’re dismayed to see how much fossil fuel money Sen. Carter has taken since signing,” said Oil Change U.S. Senior Campaigner Collin Rees. “Unless that dirty money is promptly returned, he’s set to join a small but ignominious crew of former signers who’ve been removed from the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge because they just couldn’t stop taking money from Big Oil.”
The donations were taken shortly after Carter told a Sunrise NOLA organizer at a public event on March 6 that he signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge and had “not taken any money from petrochemical.”
Carter received two contributions in March from executives of Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO), a marine transportation company that supports offshore drilling operations in oil fields off the coast of Brazil and in the Gulf of Mexico. Its oil industry partners include ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, Petrobras, BP, and Chevron. The company’s vessels assist oil companies with everything from seismic exploration to subsea rig construction, pipe laying, and oil spill response. The company’s executive vice president, Dino Chouset, donated $2,900 to Carter on March 10 and its vice president, Robert Clemons, donated $1,000 on March 19. Dino Chouest is also on the board of directors of the Offshore Marine Service Association, an oil services association that is on the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge’s list of prohibited entities.
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On March 9 and March 30, Carter’s campaign received donations of $2,500 from the PAC of Kirby Corporation. According to the company’s website, Kirby’s operates the nation’s largest fleet of coastal and inland tank barges and its services include “the transporting of petrochemicals, black oil, refined petroleum products and agricultural chemical products.” Kirby’s Inland Marine division services the Mississippi River and has an office in Baton Rouge, almost certainly helping to transport petroleum products to and from the industrial plants responsible for polluting Cancer Alley. Kirby also has two wholly-owned subsidiaries in the oil field services industry that make things like pump equipment and well stimulation systems.
Carter also recently received contributions from two executives at an affiliate of oil and gas services company Grand Isle Shipyard (GIS), according to a recent filing from Carter’s campaign. GIS works with exploration and production companies including everything from offshore operations in the Gulf of Mexico to mid-continent shale plays, pipeline companies that transport crude oil and natural gas, and downstream petrochemical companies producing products like PVC, ammonia, and gasoline. Two vice presidents in the company’s coastal design and infrastructure affiliate donated $2,800 to Carter on April 9.
Two individuals affiliated with New Orleans-based natural gas and electricity company Entergy made donations to Carter in violation of the pledge. Entergy Group President Rod West, an SEC-named executive for the company, donated $500 on March 12 and its chief federal lobbyist Cory Horton donated $250 on March 11.
Another recent Carter donor was Cornerstone Government Affairs lobbyist Eric Tober, whose federal clients include Chevron, Frontera Resources, and Kirby Corp.
Oil Change U.S. told Sludge that they have messaged Carter’s campaign about these donations and will remove Carter from the pledge if the campaign does not respond or refuses to return the donations. Sludge emailed the Carter campaign for comment on this article but did not hear back.
These nine recent violations of the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge are not the first fossil fuel industry donations the Carter campaign has received. As Sludge previously reported, New Orleans-based petroleum products wholesaler Infinity Fuels LLC donated the 2020 cycle maximum of $2,800 to Carter’s campaign on Dec. 31, 2020; the CEO of natural gas service provider Entergy Louisiana, Phyllip May, donated $500 to Carter in February; and Phyllis Taylor, the CEO of Taylor Energy, gave Carter the 2020 cycle legal maximum of $2,900. These donations were made before Carter signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge on March 5 and therefore do not constitute violations, according to the pledge organizers.
Carter has been endorsed by Richmond, House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (R-S.C.), Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), and other prominent House Democrats. His federal Democratic donors include the leadership PAC of Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas), a founding member of the Congressional Oil and Gas Caucus.
In its endorsement of Carter, Louisiana newspaper The Advocate said that he “said he agrees with Gov. John Bel Edwards, who wants Biden to reconsider his temporary moratorium on new oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Carter’s opponent, Karen Carter Peterson, told Sludge last month that she is “all in for the Green New Deal,” the progressive vision for a social justice platform tied to mass decarbonization that Carter has declined to embrace. Peterson is a state senator, the Democratic National Committee’s vice chair for civic engagement and voter protection, and a former counsel at law firm Denton in the firm’s global energy practice.
Peterson signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge on March 1 and posted a video on Twitter where she states, but Peterson’s pre-runoff FEC filing shows she took at least two such contributions from lobbyists at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck whose clients include fossil fuel companies. However, the Peterson campaign told Oil Change U.S. that it will be returning the donations.
“We’re glad to see Sen. Peterson’s prompt action to remain in compliance with her pledge, which is exactly what we expect from signers,” said Rees.