Republican megadonor urges talk on climate change solutions

AP News
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Posted: Sep 28, 2015 3:03 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican businessman Jay Faison says his party should stop fighting science and start talking solutions to climate change. He has $175 million to invest in politics and policy to help inspire them. And if that's not enough, he's commissioned a survey, released Monday, that he says shows voters agree.

"I'm pretty frustrated about the political divide," Faison said. "This is too important to leave to the Democrats."

Faison made his fortune in 2013 with the sale of his majority stake in his audio-visual equipment company, based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He sank much of his profit into the ClearPath Foundation and a separate politically active policy group; both are devoted to moving Republicans beyond saying that the climate is not changing — or, if it is, that humans have nothing to do with it.

Instead, GOP leaders should be talking about solutions, such as clean energy, Faison said.

Faison is the most active Republican donor on climate issues, a sort of GOP counterpart to Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer, a billionaire who spent roughly $75 million last year trying to defeat Republican senate and gubernatorial candidates who reject mainstream climate science.

Climate change doubters have noticed. One of the most prominent, Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, said at a conference in June: "There is another Tom Steyer who has surfaced. His name is Jay Faison." He warned that senators might be tempted to "appease" Faison to get some of his millions.

That sort of denouncement, Faison said, shows that his positions are viewed as a threat.

Faison said his survey found that a majority of Republican voters believe human activity is contributing at least "a little" to climate change, though Republicans were less likely than others in the survey to say so.

Republicans should debate climate change by emphasizing the need to develop clean energy, using buzzwords such as "innovation," ''jobs creation" and "energy security" when they talk about the issue, Faison and his pollsters said.

The survey was conducted by three leading Republican pollsters, including Whit Ayres, who is working for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's presidential campaign. Another pollster, Kristen Soltis Anderson, said the results showed voters are eager to "depoliticize" climate change and clean energy.

"The right has not captured what their voice is going to be on these issues yet," she said. "There's a huge opportunity for presidential candidates to turn the partisan temperature down."

Faison said he already sees evidence of that in the 2016 GOP field.

"Six months ago, 'I'm not a scientist,' was the leading phrase around the topic," Faison said. Yet now Rubio — one of the candidates who'd frequently used that language — "defended the fact that he's not a denier" in the Republican presidential debate this month. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie "was more positive," Faison said. Christie said during the debate that America can "contribute" to fixing climate change in a way that is "economically sound."

Faison said he is unsure whether he'll endorse anyone in the Republican primary.

He has already given at least $100,000 to a super PAC supporting Sen. Lindsey Graham, a longshot for president and the most outspoken of the 15 candidates that human activity is contributing to climate change. Faison also gave $50,000 to the pro-Jeb Bush super PAC. His largest contribution, $500,000, was to a super PAC supporting New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte's re-election next year. Ayotte is a Republican leader in calling for the development of clean energy.

Faison's $10 million nonprofit policy shop, America Leads, happens to share its name with Christie's super PAC. Faison and his spokeswoman said that's merely a coincidence.

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AP News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson contributed to this report.