Democrats dig for Russians and uncover environmentalists
Democrats and the media have been on a yearlong deep dig into Russian involvement into U.S. elections. But when you dig a hole you sometimes run across things you wish had remained buried — like the dirt pointing to Russian ties to the U.S. environmental movement.
Democrats hoped their digging would expose some kind of Russian connection to President Donald Trump. That hasn't happened.
But as the investigations have progressed, there is a growing realization that Russians were trying to influence the political process and policy debates, including environmentalists' efforts to limit or stop hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, an innovative crude oil and natural gas drilling process.
Back in 2014 Anders Fogh Rasmussen, then-secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and a former prime minister of Denmark, was publicly alleging that Russia was secretly funding the anti-fracking movement.
"I have met with allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called nongovernment organizations — environmental organizations working against shale gas — to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas," Rasmussen asserted.
According to the World Bank, oil and gas revenue accounts for about 40 percent of the Russian government's revenues, which it uses to expand its influence and foment mischief and unrest around the world.
Fracking has dramatically increased U.S. crude oil and natural gas production, which has pushed prices down. Lower energy prices, and especially for gasoline, have been great for consumers and the U.S. economy.
But low oil and gas prices have been terrible for Russia and the OPEC countries, especially Venezuela and Iran. So it's easy to see why Russia might fund a covert campaign to undermine U.S. energy production.
Reps. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and Randy Weber, who chairs the Energy Subcommittee, have been investigating Russian involvement.
They point out that last October WikiLeaks released Hillary Clinton emails that included a private 2014 speech in which then-Secretary Clinton said the State Department was "up against phony environmental groups, and I'm a big environmentalist, but these were funded by the Russians ..."
Smith and Weber recently sent Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin a letter outlining how money appears to be channeled from Russia through a Bermuda-based "shell company" known as Klein, Ltd., which doles out "tens of millions of dollars to a U.S. based ... private foundation, the Sea Change Foundation."
The letter alleges, "Sea Change then passes the money originating in Russia to various ... organizations such as the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, and others." Those environmental groups then use the money to oppose fracking, the congressmen claim.
To be fair, environmental groups on the receiving end may not know the initial source of those funds, which is why Congress should investigate the financial chain.
And that's why Rep. Lamar has asked Twitter, Facebook and Alphabet (i.e., Google) to turn over any information they might have on Russian-backed entities pushing anti-fracking advertising.
We don't know where this will all lead, but it appears that the green movement is much "redder" than some people thought — or were willing to reveal.
Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews. This piece originally ran in The Hill.