As concern over climate change grows and high profile progressive political figures embrace ambitious ideas, candidates with limited resources and time are facing a new challenge: how to craft winning political messages tailored to their districts and backed by the most recent science, health and economic data.
To help answer that concern, a new group launched on Thursday, called the Climate Cabinet Action Fund, plans to offer bespoke climate data, policy ideas and messaging suggestions to candidates and lawmakers.
The explosion of new research and policy initiatives, though heartening to activists, has created a conundrum for campaigns not previously steeped in the movement or well-informed on the specific concerns of their constituencies.
Climate Cabinet Action wants to “close that gap,” its founder, Caroline Spears, told CNN, by providing “district-specific” information – including polling, incumbent voting records, local health data and revised clean energy cost figures – to every congressional candidate and, for now, every downballot legislative hopeful in 10 states.
“We have information overload,” Spears said. “We want to make this process as easy as possible for candidates who care about this issue and want to solve it. That piece is the gap that we’re addressing – the translation of the incredible research that already exists to the people running for office.”
The group will draw in part on the work of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s former team and others. In 2019, Inslee ran a presidential primary campaign devoted to elevating the issue and crafting a policy infrastructure to address it. After Inslee dropped out, he effectively handed over his plans to candidates up and down the ballot, releasing them on an open source platform.
Spears pointed to the Evergreen Action Plan, the legacy of the Inslee presidential primary campaign, calling it the “the gold standard for federal climate action,” as a prime source, among other emerging policy reservoirs, that will be more useful in practice if they are parceled out more efficiently to lawmakers. Earlier this year, former Inslee campaign staffers launched the which provides a roadmap for lawmakers and candidates committed to addressing the crisis.
“It’s hard to sift through all of the plans that get published,” she said. “And so what we do is synthesize and get (the candidates) all the information that that’s out there and translate it in a way that’s really relevant to their campaign.”
Her group will not make endorsements or apply public pressure, like the Green New Deal advocates at the Sunrise Movement, but rather offer up a “menu” of policy ideas and messaging guidance. In Democratic primaries, that could mean presenting the same or similar information to candidates running against each other. And like with Inslee’s own suite of plans, it will be free to those who want it.
“We need every person running for office right now to feel like they’ve been given the tools they need to have a plan on day one,” Spears said. “There’s this incredible body of research that’s been put out by the climate scientists and the nonprofit community. We have roadmaps for how to solve this. We’re not doing justice to the climate crisis if we put that behind a paywall.”
California Rep. Mike Levin, who served on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, said that, within the current campaign finance reality, fossil fuel interests will continue to have the upper hand when it comes to lobbying and funding allied candidates. Pushback from fossil fuel groups, and others on the right, remains deeply entrenched on Capitol Hill, where industry lobbyists and allied lawmakers are providing intense pushback to any big ticket climate legislation. And nonpartisan government entities like the Congressional Research Service, that might have decades ago been in a position to offer statistics and other information to lawmakers, are chronically underfunded, leaving potential climate allies to look elsewhere.
Still, there is a clear political upside, even in purple and some red districts and states, on running campaigns that address climate concerns.
“We have a lot of people who run for office who are generally supportive, conceptually, of having more sustainable energy and protecting our environment,” Levin said.
Climate Cabinet Action’s plan, he added, would help “them with the toolkit, where they can understand the nuts and bolts of the issues and make a positive, immediate impact, both on the campaign trail, in making sure to prioritize the issue, and then if they’re elected, hit the ground running to actually make an impact.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct Caroline Spears’ name.