Former Vice President Joe Biden was seemingly unaware that one of the co-hosts of a campaign fundraiser he is scheduled to attend on Thursday is the co-founder of a fossil fuel company — at least until he was asked about the fundraiser at a CNN climate town hall on climate change Wednesday night.
The man in question is Andrew Goldman, a co-founder of the Houston-based company Western LNG, which produces and transports natural gas. Goldman was a senior adviser for Biden when the 2020 Democratic frontrunner was in the US Senate, and is co-hosting one of two high-dollar fundraisers for Biden in New York on Thursday.
Asked by audience member and Bernie Sanders supporter Isaac Larkin whether the public could trust Biden’s pledge not to accept money from fossil fuel companies when he was attending a fundraiser hosted by Goldman, Biden quickly shot back that Goldman is “not a fossil fuel executive.”
Joe Biden says he might reconsider a fundraiser scheduled for Thursday after being confronted and told about its host’s connections to the energy industry #ClimateTownHall https://t.co/VDehXzZTW9 pic.twitter.com/6DhMi8wwed— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) September 5, 2019
CNN moderator Anderson Cooper challenged Biden to answer Larkin’s question, saying, “If you’re going to a fundraiser given in part by this company that is pulling up natural gas, are you the right guy?” Biden responded he would have to do more research.
“I didn’t realize he does that,” Biden said of Goldman. “If you look at the SEC filings, he’s not listed as an executive. That’s what we look at. The SEC filings.”
Asked by Cooper whether he’d still plan to attend the fundraiser, Biden said, “I’ll look at what you told me and find out if that’s accurate, yes.”
Later in the CNN town hall, Cooper clarified that Goldman was a co-founder of LNG and doesn’t currently have day-to-day responsibilities.
“What I was told by my staff is he did not have any responsibility relating to the company,” Biden said. “He was not on the board, he was not involved at all in the operation of the company at all. But if that turns out to be true, I will not in any way accept his help. We check every single contribution.”
Still, Larkin’s question hits at a deep distrust among voters about how money influences politics and policy. The leaders of youth climate group Sunrise Movement soon blasted Biden for the fundraiser.
“Holding this fundraiser clearly violates the spirit of the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge that Biden signed,” Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash said in a statement. “If Biden is serious about taking on the power of the fossil fuel lobby, why is he going to a fundraiser hosted by the co-founder of a natural gas company? If Biden wants to be taken seriously on climate change, he needs to cancel this fundraiser.”
Like many of his competitors in the presidential race, Biden has sworn off fossil money, as well as money from Super PACs, corporate PACs, and federal lobbyists. But unlike his two biggest challengers, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, Biden has continued to do high-dollar fundraisers (all of which have been covered by pooled press).
“Those fundraisers are where influence is peddled,” Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform for the Campaign Legal Center, recently told Vox. “It’s effectively buying access. We accept it, and it’s become normalized, but if a fundraiser requires a $2,800 check to get in the door, a candidate is selling access to themselves.”
The Biden campaign said Goldman is not technically a fossil fuel executive, which Cooper later clarified.
“What Anderson Cooper just said about VP Biden’s fundraiser is factually incorrect,” Biden senior adviser Symone Sanders tweeted. “Andrew Goldman isn’t a fossil fuel executive. He’s not involved in the day to day operation. He’s not on the board of the company, nor the board of the portfolio company.”
What @andersoncooper just said about VP Biden's fundraiser is factually incorrect. Andrew Goldman isn't a fossil fuel executive. He's not involved in the day to day operation. He's not on the board of the company, nor the board of the portfolio company.— Symone D. Sanders (@SymoneDSanders) September 5, 2019
“VP Biden signed a pledge not to take money from fossil fuel executives. He stands by it, and he has not violated it,” Sanders continued.
As a company co-founder, Goldman is the second person listed on Western LNG’s leadership page. His description on the site says he helped “launch” the company. Goldman also works as the chief investment officer of Hildred Capital Partners. Hildred’s website says the firm’s “private equity currently includes investments in regional banks, real estate, energy, and a broad array of healthcare-related companies, including services, technology, IT and pharmaceutical oriented businesses.”
Money in politics has already become a big issue in the 2020 race, with Sanders and Warren telling voters they are free from the influence of millionaires and billionaires because they are not doing high-dollar fundraisers.
That argument could be more difficult for Biden to make after this exchange.
Update: This post was updated with Anderson Cooper’s clarification about Andrew Goldman’s role at Western LNG, and a statement from Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash.