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- As Nevada’s attorney general, Republican Laxalt in 2016 opposed efforts by Democratic attorneys general to investigate whether oil companies made fraudulent disclosures about climate change. He also helped Exxon Mobil Corp. fight one of the investigations.
- The investigations were criticized by Republican attorneys general as chilling to free speech.
- A super PAC said it made $2.5 million in what are known as independent expenditures on ads to support Laxalt’s 2018 run for Nevada governor. Oil and gas was the group’s largest industry donor to the PAC during that election cycle, but the vast majority of those donations were from individuals, not organizations.
In a toss-up race that could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto accused Republican Adam Laxalt of using his former job as Nevada’s attorney general to help an industry that later helped him run for governor.
Cortez Masto, who also served as the state’s attorney general, made the attack in a six-second video on Snapchat.
"Adam Laxalt fought an investigation into the oil industry," the narrator says. "Then they funded his campaign."
Cortez Masto made essentially the same claim about Laxalt and the oil industry in a TV ad. A different TV ad, by a super PAC affiliated with the League of Conservation Voters, also targeted Laxalt’s ties to the oil industry.
As attorney general in 2016, Laxalt opposed investigations of the oil industry in other states.
When Laxalt ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018, a super PAC largely funded by oil interests did not contribute directly to his campaign, but said it spent $2.5 million on ads to support his run.
Cortez Masto’s Snapchat ad, scheduled to run June 17 to Aug. 23, cited a news story about Laxalt’s efforts as attorney general in 2016 to block an investigation of Exxon Mobil’s alleged role in downplaying climate change. The article said a subpoena issued to Exxon as part of the investigation named several organizations funded by billionaire oil industry brothers Charles and David Koch, but it did not identify the organizations.
Here’s the relevant chronology:
2015 — Reporting on Exxon’s role in climate change debate: Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times published reports revealing that Exxon Mobil went from being a pioneer in climate change research to spending millions on a campaign to raise doubt about climate change.
Nov. 5, 2015 — New York attorney general investigates Exxon: Then-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, subpoenaed documents from Exxon as part of his investigation into whether the company lied to the public about climate change’s risks, news organizations disclosed.
Editorials later that month in Bloomberg News and The Washington Post said the investigation raised concerns about Schneiderman’s tactics. The Post said there’s a risk "whenever law enforcement holds the prospect of criminal penalties over those involved in a scientific debate." An editorial in USA Today raised First Amendment concerns.
March 29, 2016 — Other attorneys general join Schneiderman: Schneiderman announced that he and 14 fellow Democratic attorneys general created a coalition vowing to "defend climate change progress made under President Obama" that would include "ongoing and potential investigations into whether fossil fuel companies misled investors and the public on the impact of climate change on their businesses."
June 15, 2016 — Laxalt, other GOP AGs object: Laxalt and 12 other Republican state attorneys general signed a letter addressed to fellow attorneys general around the country urging them to "stop policing viewpoints." The letter noted the Schneiderman coalition’s reference to investigations of fossil fuel companies and to Schneiderman’s subpoenas to Exxon, saying, "We think this effort by our colleagues to police the global warming debate through the power of the subpoena is a grave mistake."
Sept. 8, 2016 — Laxalt backs Exxon in court: Laxalt joined 10 other Republican attorneys general in filing a court brief supporting an attempt by Exxon to stop the Massachusetts investigation. The brief said attorneys general do not have the right to do investigations "to promulgate a social ideology, or chill the expression of points of view, in international policy debates."
On the campaign funding part of its claim, the ad alludes to a news article that said the Koch-backed Freedom Partners Action Fund spent $2.5 million on advertising to support Laxalt’s gubernatorial campaign.
There is no record of the so-called independent expenditures, the $2.5 million, because neither the Federal Election Commission nor Nevada required the super PAC to disclose them, Pete Quist, deputy research director of the nonprofit OpenSecrets, told PolitiFact.
Nevada law required the independent expenditures happen without coordinating with a campaign, and limited campaign contributions to $5,000 for the primary election and $5,000 for the general election at the time, Quist said, whether from individuals, PACs or others.
By industry, the largest donor to the super PAC during the 2018 election cycle was oil and gas, at $4.13 million, OpenSecrets reported. But $3.88 million was from individuals in that industry; the rest was from organizations.
The next-largest donor group by industry, as defined by OpenSecrets, were retirees, at $2.69 million; and electronics and manufacturing equipment, at $2 million.
The largest donor during the cycle was the Charles G. Koch 1997 Trust, related to Koch Industries, at $3 million, according to OpenSecrets. Forbes rated Koch Industries, based in Wichita, Kansas, as America’s second-largest private company in 2021. Its industries include oil and gas refining, but also chemicals and biofuels; forest and consumer products; fertilizers; and polymers and fibers.
Cortez Masto said Laxalt "fought an investigation into the oil industry, then they funded his campaign."
In 2016, Laxalt, a Republican, opposed efforts by Democratic attorneys general to investigate whether oil companies had made fraudulent disclosures about climate change. Laxalt also helped Exxon Mobil fight one of the investigations, which Republican attorneys general criticized as a threat to First Amendment rights.
A super PAC said it spent $2.5 million on ads to support Laxalt’s 2018 run for Nevada governor, but did not contribute those funds directly to Laxalt’s campaign. The industry group that donated the largest amount of money to the PAC was oil and gas, though the vast majority of those funds were from individuals, not oil organizations.
Cortez Masto’s claim is partially accurate but leaves out important details. We rate it Half True.
Email, Catherine Cortez Masto campaign spokesperson Josh Marcus Blank, Aug. 3, 2022
Email, Adam Laxalt campaign spokesperson Courtney Holland, Aug. 3, 2022
Reno Gazette News, "Laxalt joined Koch brothers, his campaign allies, in bid to block ExxonMobil fraud probe," Sept. 10, 2018
Nevada Independent, "Laxalt using data firm supported by Koch brothers and seen as potential competitor to Republican Party's efforts," Aug. 9, 2018
Environblog.jenner.com, "Attorney General Strange Leads Dear Colleague Letter To Fellow Attorneys General Opposing Use Of Subpoenas To Enforce Their Climate Agenda Views," June 16, 2016
Email, Pete Quist, deputy research director of OpenSecrets, Aug. 4, 2022
Politico, "Kochs launch new super PAC," June 16, 2014; updated June 17, 2014
Federal Election Commission, Freedom Partners Action Fund registration, June 13, 2014
Nevada Globe, "‘Big Oil’ Money Finds Its Way to Democrats," June 17, 2022
New York Attorney General, "A.G. Schneiderman, Former Vice President Al Gore And A Coalition Of Attorneys General From Across The Country Announce Historic State-Based Effort To Combat Climate Change," March 29, 2016
National Conference of State Legislatures, "State Limits on Contributions to Candidates, 2017-2018 Election Cycle," June 27, 2017
YouTube, New York Attorney General post of "A.G. Schneiderman, Al Gore And Coalition Of A.G.'s Announce Historic Effort To Combat Climate Change," March 29, 2016
New York Times, "Exxon Mobil Investigated for Possible Climate Change Lies by New York Attorney General," Nov. 5, 2015
Inside Climate News, "New York Attorney General Subpoenas Exxon on Climate Research," Nov. 5, 2015
Inside Climate News, "Exxon: The Road Not Taken," 2015 series accessed Aug. 3, 2022
Los Angeles Times, "How Exxon went from leader to skeptic on climate change research," Oct. 23, 2015
New York Times, Exxon Mobil Corp. court motion, June 15, 2016
OpenSecrets, "Freedom Partners Action Fund PAC Donors," 2018 cycle, accessed Aug. 3, 2022
OpenSecrets, "Contributions to Freedom Partners Action Fund, Industry Breakdown, 2018," accessed Aug. 3, 2022
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