How Manchin Capitalized on Being at the Center of the IRA Debate

The senator formed a new fundraising vehicle that lets him solicit larger contribution checks.

How Manchin Capitalized on Being at the Center of the IRA Debate
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) speaks to members of the press.

This summer, while he was negotiating with Democratic leaders over the Inflation Reduction Act and pushing his energy permitting bill, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) set up a new committee allowing him to receive larger contribution checks. From July through the end of September, Manchin used this new fundraising vehicle to raise more than $300,000, much of it from individuals in the fossil fuel industry who stood to benefit from the bills.

Manchin formed the Manchin Leadership Fund on June 8 as a joint fundraising committee that would disburse funds to his campaign committee and leadership PAC. Joint fundraising committees don’t allow donors to give more money than they could otherwise by maxing out to the individual committees they are affiliated with, but they make it easier for a politician to solicit a single large check from donors.

The checks began coming into the fund in early July, according to a recent FEC filing, just weeks before Sen. Manchin made his surprise announcement that he had struck a deal with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and would support a pared-back version of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Manchin’s deal with Schumer included new spending on climate mitigation programs while requiring the government to make millions of acres of federal land and waters available for new oil and gas leasing. The deal also included an agreement with House Speaker Pelosi and President Biden that they would separately pass Manchin’s legislation to accelerate the environmental permitting process for energy infrastructure projects like multi-state oil and gas pipelines and fossil fuel exporting terminals.

Many of the donations to Manchin Leadership Fund come from the energy industry in Colorado, including from the CEOs and lobbyists of Colorado-based oil drilling companies.

Democratic Colorado Sen. John Hickenlooper has been credited with pushing Manchin to cut the deal with Schumer, and he told Colorado Public Radio that he had encouraged corporate executives to contact Manchin and pressure him to get a deal done. During the summer, there were reports that Hickenlooper planned to host a fundraiser for Manchin at his Colorado home along with the nonprofit No Labels group, based on an invitation obtained by Colorado Public Radio, but Hickenlooper’s office denied the accuracy of those reports. Unlike many other Democrats, Hickenlooper said that he supported Manchin’s permitting bill. 

Several of the big donors to Manchin Leadership fund are affiliated with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a national lobbying firm that is headquartered in Denver, Colorado and has a major focus on representing clients in the energy sector. In Colorado, Brownstein’s lobbying clients include the Petroleum Development Corporation and oil and gas company Suncor Energy, while its federal clients in D.C. include the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, and hundreds more companies.

Brownstein senior policy director Michael Stratton donated $10,510 to Manchin Leadership Fund on August 31. Stratton is described on the Brownstein website as “a leading voice in the hierarchy of the Democratic Party” who played a central role in the election of Sen. Hickenlooper. 

Stratton’s federal clients include Freeport LNG Development, the operator of a liquid natural gas exporting terminal in Freeport, Texas that is among the largest such facilities in the world. The permitting bill would have benefited Freeport LNG by accelerating pipeline construction and increasing its supply of natural gas to ship overseas. 

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck is the only firm that Freeport LNG employs for lobbying at the federal level.

Norman Brownstein, the firm’s chairman, donated $5,800 to the fund on September 9. Managing partner Rich Benenson donated $1,000, as did senior partner Steve Demby. Demby, who specializes in energy and infrastructure, also represents Freeport LNG. 

Another donor to Manchin Leadership Fund is John Ikard, a director of Colorado Concern, which is an association of Colorado CEOs that works to create “a pro-business environment through the political process.” Its members include Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck shareholder Adam Agron and the CEO of oil and gas company Laramie Energy. Ikard gave the Manchin Leadership Fund $5,000.

Several other Colorado energy figures made donations. Robert Price, the CEO of Denver-based natural gas company Brooks Energy Company, donated $10,000 on July 27, as did Robert Jornayvaz, the CEO of mining and Denver fertilizer company Intrepid Potash. Chris Romer, the CEO of a Denver company called Project Canary that sells emissions monitoring services to the fossil fuel industry, donated $10,800 on August 3.

Charles McNeil, the CEO of NextGen Resources Corporation, donated $10,000 to the Manchin Leadership Fund on August 4. NextGen Resources uses fracking and horizontal drilling techniques to extract oil and gas in the Denver-Julesburg Basin. It is also involved in coal mining and transportation, and it has a division that sells technology to coal-powered plants that it says helps to reduce emissions of certain greenhouse gasses.

Other donors from the energy industry include executives from companies including Enduring Resources, Hope Gas, CONSOL Energy, Robindale Energy, Xcoal Energy & Resources, and HRM Resources III.

The funds raised by Manchin Leadership Fund will be transferred to his campaign ahead of his re-election in 2024 and his leadership PAC, which he uses to donate to political party groups and other political candidates. 

Sen. Manchin also raised nearly $500,000 in the third quarter of the year through his campaign, with several donations coming from figures in the fossil fuels industry such as five employees of Diversified Energy Company who gave him a combined $15,833. Other donors include executives from Reserve Oil & Gas, the president of Cunningham Energy, and the CEO of EQT Corporation. Between his campaign, leadership PAC, and new joint fundraising committee, Manchin has raised at least $9.5 million since the beginning of the current Congress in January 2021. He is the top recipient in Congress this cycle of oil and gas money, according to OpenSecrets

On September 27, Manchin pulled his permitting bill from a must-pass government appropriations package because it did not have enough support. The bill may not be entirely dead, however. Many Republicans and moderate Democrats have said that they support finding another way to pass the bill, possibly by attaching it to another bill that is considered essential, such as legislation that authorizes the activities of the Department of Defense. In comments to E&E News, Hickenlooper said, “Mark my words, we will find a way to get it done.”

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