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Impact of the 2012 Elections

Building Power and Credibility for a Clean Energy Future

Billionaires spent big in 2012 to buy their way into the White House and Congress. The Koch Brothers invested $400 million of their own money this election cycle, more than the McCain campaign spent in all of 2008. Fossil fuel interests spent more than $296 million on advertising between September 1 and Election Day, promoting dirty energy profits over clean air and water. These attack ads promised cheap power from dirty energy, but didn’t talk about the land, air, and water affected by extraction when the planet is destroyed for profit. But we did. We told the clean energy truth, and voters listened.

We built power in the White House.
Working closely with Obama for America, we recruited more than 12,000 members to join Environmentalists for Obama, to participate in "Get Out the Vote" (GOTV) shifts on Election Day, and to plug into the Obama campaign's dashboard to make over 30,000 phone calls in the final two weeks before the election. Our work to re-elect Obama began in April, when Sierra Club leadership met with Obama campaign staff to discuss strategy. During the summer, Sierra Club deployed 328 leaders in nine important states, spending the summer and early fall building grassroots support for the president.

It worked. On November 9, the Obama campaign acknowledged our contribution this cycle, stating the Club was "an integral part of (the) win."

We built power in Congress.
In conjunction with the broader environmental community, we created a plan to build political power by weighing in heavily on a U.S. Senate race -- New Mexico’s race between Rep. Martin Heinrich and Heather Wilson. Wilson is one of Congress' all-time leading recipients of oil and gas money. In the U.S. House, she voted to kill clean energy investments, pushed to give Big Oil billions in tax handouts, and she also let polluters off the hook, even though they contaminated the water supplies used by tens of thousands of New Mexicans with MTBE -- a potentially life-threatening chemical.

In contrast, Congressman Heinrich consistently supported America's growing clean energy economy, championed new clean air and water safeguards, and fought to keep drills out of our public lands. He's been a passionate advocate in the fight against climate disruption, standing up for solutions that will create new American jobs, while slashing carbon emissions. That's the kind of record you would expect from a Sierra Club member, so it's no surprise that Heinrich once served on the Rio Grande Chapter's Executive Committee.

We knew that helping Heinrich win would do good, but more would be needed to demonstrate the influence of environmental issues and to truly leverage power. So we focused resources and went in big. Jointly spending more than $2 million early in the race, our political strategies are widely credited with tipping this race from a tight toss-up to a likely win by the end of the summer. The Sierra Club ran two TV spots starting in early July and sent out two mailings to a universe just shy of 75,000. Our ads were the only ads in the race from either side to receive significant national and local earned media attention, likely due to our strong brand in New Mexico.

Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post referenced our work in New Mexico (among other states), stating that the environmental community's political stock went up this cycle and noted that "even some representatives of the fossil-fuel industry said that environmentalists invested their resources wisely in 2012."

We built power with our issues.
In California, voters overwhelmingly supported Proposition 39, the Clean Energy Jobs Act. The Sierra Club supported the act, bringing an estimated $1 billion of revenue back to California, which would help to close the budget deficit and provide funds for clean energy and energy efficiency projects. Our largest membership base is in California, allowing us to leverage our online effectiveness for at-the-poll results.

We also invested significant staff and resources in the Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs renewable energy ballot initiative. In addition to a sizable direct contribution, we deployed four Green Corps organizers, four additional full-time staff, two online and media staff, and a portion of time from field organizers around the country. While we were ultimately not successful in passing the initiative, we were a dominant force in implementing the campaign. Sierra Club staff and volunteers completed 66% of all voter conversations through the coalition predictive dialer, composed 64% of the online rapid responders, supplied more than 30% of the volunteer poll greeters on Election Day, and recruited 23% of the businesses and grasstops endorsements. Our work mobilizing grassroots support -- coupled with the good work from other organizations guarantees that the push for more renewable energy will continue in Michigan.

Sierra Club's Strategies and Programs

One of the most influential forces in the 2012 election was the grassroots activist. Pundits on both sides agree that community organizers mobilized progressive voters -- specifically influential groups like women, Latinos, and young people -- in numbers that really made a difference.

The Sierra Club's strength is in its organizing power. Online or on the ground, we returned power to the people.

Boots on the ground

Victory Corps leverages volunteers and staff Victory Corps is Sierra Club's premier volunteer engagement program, in which we deploy staff to work directly with U.S. Senate and House candidates in competitive races. Our program in 2012 was our largest ever, with 66 staff deployed to 53 contests.

Executive Director Michael Brune, along with Sierra Club President Allison Chin, and other board members participated in press and volunteer recruitment events on the ground. Our Victory Corps staff trained 350 volunteer team leaders and mobilized more than 3,300 of our volunteers to go door to door or make phone calls, providing personalized contact in the final critical days of the election. For the first time ever, the Sierra Club also shut its doors across the nation on Election Day to provide all staff the opportunity to volunteer with Obama for America or another competitive federal or local race in their areas. In all, Victory Corps volunteers moved America toward a greener Senate with wins in 11 Senate races, including Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, Chris Murphy in Connecticut, and Tim Kaine in Virginia.

Victory Corps organizers worked on the races of 16 new members of Congress, including Suzan DelBene in Washington, Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico, Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona, Julia Brownley and Mark Takano in California, and Steve Horsford in Nevada.

Our presence, work, and relationships in these campaigns have drawn accolades from all of the candidates and provide us extensive access to member offices.

TOXIC MONEY, TOXIC VOTE CAMPAIGN: Money as poisonous as their product

For too long, fossil fuel money has bought political representatives and their votes in office. To combat the dirty money underwriting the work of America's public servants, we launched the "Toxic Money, Toxic Votes" campaign. Targeting six incumbents who received excessive fossil fuel money and subsequently voted to support coal and oil over clean air and clean water, the Club unseated three incumbents, sending three new clean energy champions to Congress: Ami Bera (CA-7), Cheri Bustos (IL-17), and Pete Gallego (TX-23).

Dirty Money in the Golden State -- California's 7th Congressional District

Few House incumbents have embraced the oil industry as shamelessly as long-time Sacramento-area incumbent Dan Lungren -- which is exactly why Sierra Club Independent Action made Lungren a top target in its "Toxic Money, Toxic Votes" campaign. With mail and television ads, the Club highlighted Lungren's long history of voting in line with the fossil fuel donors who've stuffed more than $450,000 in his campaign coffers throughout his political career, rewarding his votes to kill clean energy jobs, to gut the protections that keep toxins away from California kids, and to needlessly beef up Big Oil's record profits with record tax giveaways. Lungren's opponent, Ami Bera, opposed Lungren's reckless pro-offshore drilling stance, and advocates for clean air and clean water. In response, Big Oil funding from the Chamber of Commerce supported attack ads against Bera in hopes of protecting the investments it has made in Lungren's career.

In response, the Sierra Club aired television ads attacking Lungren's energy record and sent a series of three direct mail pieces to more than 49,000 potential voters for Bera. The race was so tight that Bera actually travelled to the nation's capital for freshman orientation in the House not yet knowing if he had actually won a seat. Bera defeated Rep. Lungren with 50.8% of the vote.

Winning on Big Oil's Own Turf -- Texas' 23rd Congressional District

When choosing champions for our Toxic Money efforts, the Sierra Club took a risk investing in TX-23, the largest Congressional district in the nation in the heart of oil country. But the stakes were high enough to take on the fight. Polling showed Republican Quico Conseco's close ties with Big Oil special interests left him vulnerable to an argument about his allegiance to his constituents.

We targeted 16,000 drop-off Latino voters, engaging them as a powerful force for change. Among other efforts, were a Spanish-language phone bank and radio ad, plus bilingual direct appeals. Pete Gallego won that race by a narrow 9,000-vote margin. Getting drop-off voters to vote early was key in Gallego's victory.

Now that the election is over, the "Toxic Money, Toxic Votes" campaign will follow those candidates successfully elected by fossil fuel money. Our goal is to make those contributions as public and toxic as tobacco money became in the 1990s.


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