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O'Rourke Declines to Sign Activists' No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 4/17/2019 Emma Kinery
Beto O'Rourke wearing a blue shirt © Bloomberg Beto O'Rourke

(Bloomberg) -- Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke declined to sign a pledge from climate activists not to accept any money from the fossil fuel industry, saying he won’t take donations from oil and gas executives, lobbyists or political action committees but won’t turn down contributions from workers.

“If you work in the oil fields, you answer the phones in the office, if you’re one of my fellow Texans in one of our state’s largest employers, we’re not going to single you out from being unable to participate in our democracy,” the former U.S. representative from El Paso told a crowd of students at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, on Tuesday.

The event was O’Rourke’s first stop in a two-day swing through Virginia, a former Republican stronghold that’s been tilting toward Democrats over the course of the last three presidential elections.

He was confronted by members of Sunrise Movement, a group of mostly young activists that’s been pressuring Democrats to sign on to the Green New Deal and pledge to reject campaign donation donations over $200 from oil and gas interests.

Home-State Industry

O’Rourke has been criticized by some progressive Democrats for not taking tougher stances while in Congress on the fossil fuel industry, which is a major employer in his home state. He voted in 2015 to lift a ban on U.S. crude oil exports.

According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, his 2018 Senate campaign was the second-highest recipient of money from the oil and gas sector -- $476,325-- behind only his Republican competitor, Ted Cruz, though the money came from individuals and not industry-related political action committees.

According to the Sunrise Movement website, several of O’Rourke rivals for the 2020 Democratic nomination have signed the pledge, including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

The paper presented to O’Rourke in Williamsburg read: “I pledge not to take contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industry, and instead prioritize the health of our families, climate, and democracy over fossil fuel industry profits.” That’s different wording from the pledge on the group’s website, which specifies “the PACs, executives, or front groups of fossil fuel companies.”

O’Rourke said he’d be “absolutely happy to” sign the pledge if they included CEOs in the wording.

“It sounds like he agrees with us,” said Hannah Ferster, 22, a student at William and Mary and a member of the Sunrise Movement. “I think we’re just a little confused as to why he hasn’t signed the pledge yet.”

O’Rourke has endorsed the Green New Deal championed by rising liberal Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a non-binding resolution that calls for a 10-year effort to shift the U.S. to renewable and zero-emission energy sources.

Since announcing his presidential campaign last month. O’Rourke has vaulted into the top tier of the ballooning field of Democratic candidates vying to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emma Kinery in Washington at ekinery@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kasia Klimasinska at kklimasinska@bloomberg.net, Joe Sobczyk, Laurie Asséo

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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