Rep. Cory Gardner helps energy interests that help his wife

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Picture of Cory Gardner
Cory Gardner

 

Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., has made energy policy a central pillar of his campaign, his congressional service and his fundraising efforts. It also plays a role in his household finances.

From his seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Gardner is an active participant in crafting the nation’s energy policy; his wife, meanwhile, works for a series of organizations that are trying to influence that policy.

The two-term congressman, elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave, supports increasing the nation’s domestic energy production and building the Keystone XL pipeline. He’s pushed back against “duplicative federal regulation[s]” that could stifle fracking and other means of harvesting energy resources.

While Influence Explorer shows that the oil and gas industry has been a top contributor to the congressman’s campaigns, Gardner’s 2012 personal financial disclosure reveals even closer ties to the energy industry. According to his disclosure, the congressman’s wife — Jaime Gardner — earns a salary from High Plains Communications LLC, which does business with an “energy education” nonprofit that counts some of the nation’s major oil companies among its funders.

Jaime Gardner served two stints in the Department of Interior during President George W. Bush’s administration, working on “Alaska affairs” and as a public information officer in the Colorado office of the Bureau of Land Management — the agency that handles energy leases on federal lands.  In August, the Consumer Energy Education Foundation named her its president. The foundation is run out of the same office and shares the same principal officer as as the Consumer Energy Alliance.

“They’re a front group that represents the interest of the oil industry,” Luke Tonachel of the National Resources Defense Council said of the CEA in an 2011 interview with Salon. The online magazine, along with The Tyee, a website based in Alberta, Canada, two years ago unearthed a cache of e-mails showing a coordinated effort between energy lobbyist Michael Whatley and Gary Mar, who was then Alberta’s representative to the Canadian Embassy in the U.S., to defeat a host of new low carbon fuel standards that would have hurt Canada’s tar sands oil industry. Whatley, who served as chief of staff for former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., represents CEA; he had previously served as its vice president and on its board of directors.

Though CEA bills itself as a grassroots “voice of the energy consumer,” forms filed with the IRS show the nonprofit is run out of the Houston office of HBW Resources, where Whatley is a partner. The group, which also has an office on Washington’s celebrated K Street corridor of lobbying shops, specializes in “strategic communications” and “policy advocacy.” CEA’s principal officer is David Holt (the “H” in HBW) and CEA paid HBW more than $1.2 million for “management and professional” services in 2012, according to disclosures filed with Internal Revenue Service.

While rules governing 501(c)4 nonprofits do not require them to disclose sources of funding — CEA claimed more than $3.1 million in contributions and grants in 2012 — the organization lists oil industry heavy hitters like Chevron and ExxonMobil among its members on its website. The group was one of the parties behind the “Secure our Fuels” ad campaign according to Salon, which targeted low carbon fuel standards.

Founded in 2010, the Consumer Energy Education Foundation, the group that hired Jaime Gardner as president and executive director, is based in the same office suite in Houston and lists HBW’s David Holt as its principal officer on its 2012 disclosure filed with the IRS. In an interview with Sunlight, Holt said that while CEEF had been in existence for several years, it had no revenue aside from some “de minimis” funds “donated by a couple of companies” to pay for its Energy Day festival. Holt said the funds were no more than $20,000 total and went back to paying for the event. He envisioned CEEF one day taking CEA’s “fuel neutral” Energy Day festival to other states and confirmed that CEEF’s president will earn a salary “out of future revenues as raised by the foundation for completing its mission of charitable exercises and causes throughout the country.”

Holt said that Jaime Gardner had previously served as a consultant for the Consumer Energy Alliance in 2009 and that her hiring by CEEF had been vetted by the House Ethics Committee. “Everything has been fully vetted, she would not have been offered that position if  that exercise had taken place” Holt, who worked a stint as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, said.

Jaime Gardner did not respond to Sunlight’s attempts to contact her regarding her work with the Consumer Energy Alliance and the Consumer Energy Education Foundation.

Meanwhile, her husband publicly acknowledged the CEA’s support of his push to allow oil drilling in Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf. “I’d like to thank the Consumer Energy Alliance and the coalition for joining my efforts to keep pressure on the Obama Administration to move these permits forward,” he stated in a press release issued Nov. 11, 2011.

The congressman’s  personal disclosure form listed two sources of spousal income — High Plains Communications and CAbi LLC. But Sunlight research found other business interests that appears to be connected to Jaime Gardner. YCRI Valves, which offers water leak detection systems according to its website, shares the same phone number as High Plains. Additionally, while the congressman lists himself as the executive director of the “Colorado Resource Alliance,” the CRA also advertises its services on High Plains website. The organization is registered in Jaime Gardner’s name and is a spinoff of the Wyoming Conservation Alliance — a corporation run by Kara Brighton and Harriet Hageman, Cheyenne-based lawyers with backgrounds in water and natural resource law. CRA offers “regulatory monitoring services” on state and federal natural resource agencies for a fee according to the High Plains website. Sunlight’s request to the congressman’s communications director for more information on the group went unreturned.

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