Herschel Walker, meeting with US Air Force personnel at Travis Air Force base, California in November, 2014 Photo by U.S. Air Force/Ken Wright
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In a last-minute bid to shape the composition of the U.S. Senate, fossil fuel energy industry interests are planning to infuse $1.5 million into Georgia in support of Herschel Walker, the Republican facing off with Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., in the runoff on December 6.
The infusions of cash, designed largely for get-out-the-vote efforts, are detailed in documents tied to Run Herschel Run, a super PAC, and the Empowerment Alliance, a nonprofit that says it is devoted to policies to “secure America’s energy independence and, with it, Americans’ prosperity, freedom, and security.”
The effort reflects the consensus view that voter drop-off in the last Georgia runoff after the 2020 election led to Republican defeat, an outcome the outside groups hope to change for the election next week.
“Republicans lost both US Senate runoffs in 2021 because the Republican coalition that voted in November did not turnout in January,” notes a slide deck prepared by the Run Herschel Run political action committee. “Tens of millions of dollars were spent on television ads, but comparatively little on the vital ‘ground game’. This effort fills that gap in 2022 while others still focus on TV.”
The Empowerment Alliance is registered in Kentucky and does not disclose its donors. But the group, launched in 2019, hardly hides its affiliation with the oil, gas, and energy utility industries. The Empowerment Alliance promised when it launched to push a national campaign to promote natural gas while battling renewable energy-focused policies such as the Green New Deal.
Matthew Hammond, the executive director of the group, was previously the president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and a registered lobbyist for fracking interests. The Energy and Policy Institute, a watchdog group, published documents that show close financial ties, through surrogate groups, between the utility giants Duke Energy, American Electric Power, and Entergy to the Empowerment Alliance.
The alliance did not respond to a request for comment.
The Empowerment Alliance plans to contribute $1.5 million out of a planned $11.5 million budget for the Run Herschel Run super PAC, a group that is spearheading an independent effort to elect Walker, according to the leaked documents.
Spending records show the PAC has retained Majority Strategies to engage in direct marketing in opposition to Warnock.
The groups plan to target the nearly half million voters who voted for Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and declined to support Walker in the general election last month. The internal budget for the group lists $1 million for direct contact with voters door-to-door, $500,000 for telemarketing, $4 million for digital advertisements, and $5 million for traditional mail advertisements.
The Empowerment Alliance President Brooke Bodney notes in one of the documents that her organization has identified 136,000 mid- to low-propensity voters who lean Republican, voted in the last runoff and general election, and care about energy issues.
The PAC’s pre-runoff disclosure filing shows a $50,000 donation from Javaid Anwar, the owner of Texas oil company Midland Energy. The bulk of the funding for Run Herschel Run may not be known until after Georgia has selected a senator. As OpenSecrets has noted, so-called pop-up super PACs involved in the runoff only have to file disclosures for donors through November 16, and many will not have to disclose donors until after the election is already over.
Earlier this year, the Affordable Energy PAC, a group that ran in “parallel” to the Empowerment Alliance, raised over $1 million for election-related purposes, largely to boost the campaign of J.D. Vance, who triumphed in his Senate race in Ohio. The Affordable Energy Fund maintains close ties to the Empowerment Alliance. The fund retained a consulting firm run by James Nathanson, a Republican consultant who served as the alliance’s first executive director.
“Vote Affordable Energy. Vote JD Vance,” read one of the mailers that went to Ohio voters. The group features similar messaging against Warnock on its website.
The Empowerment Alliance’s blunt talk disparaging renewable energy may face headwinds in Georgia. The dark-money group has sharply mocked the growing adoption of electric vehicles, and has sneered at the “ongoing electric vehicle push from the Biden Administration” as “just another slogan masquerading as policy.”
But electric vehicles have proven popular election-season issues for voters in Georgia.
Both Kemp and Warnock have regularly touted the success in bringing electric vehicle projects, including a $5.5 billion Hyundai factory to build electric cars and a $5 billion Rivian electric truck plant, manufacturing facilities that are set to bring thousands of jobs to the state.
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