Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said at CNN’s marathon forum on climate change Wednesday night that he was unaware that a fundraiser he’s slated to attend on Thursday is being co-hosted by a founder of a fossil fuel company.
“I didn’t realize he does that,” Biden said, referring to Andrew Goldman, a co-founder of Houston-based natural gas company Western LNG. “I was told if you look at the SEC filings, he’s not listed as one of those executives.”
Biden’s remark came in response to an audience question about a CNBC report Wednesday on Biden’s scheduled appearance and his close ties to Goldman. Goldman was an adviser of Biden’s when he was in the Senate.
“I know that you signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge,” the audience member asked. “But I have to ask, how can we trust you to hold these corporations and executives accountable for their crimes against humanity when we know that tomorrow you are [attending] a high-dollar fundraiser hosted by Andrew Goldman, a fossil fuel executive?”
“He’s not a fossil fuel executive,” Biden shot back, describing himself as a candidate who has “argued and pushed for us suing those executives who have engaged in pollution.”
Pressed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper about the fundraising event, Biden said, “I’m going to look at what you just told me and find out if that’s accurate, yes.”
“I think it’s pretty accurate,” Cooper said, although he later issued a clarification.
Biden’s campaign pushed back at the characterization that Goldman is an “executive” of the company. Symone Sanders, a senior adviser of Biden’s campaign, defended the 2020 contender in a pair of posts to Twitter, saying he hadn’t violated his pledge not to take fossil fuel money.
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
The argument is largely one of semantics. Western LNG lists Goldman as the company co-founder on its leadership page. Goldman also co-founded De Cordova Goldman Capital Management, which invested in “natural resources and energy, media and telecommunications, and financial services.”
The Sunrise Movement, the youth-led climate group that garnered support for a Green New Deal, called on Biden to cancel the fundraiser, saying it “clearly violates the spirit of the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge.” And a spokesman for the environmental groups that oversee the pledge said the fundraiser event is “sketchy, at best.”
“Let’s be clear. The rules of the #NoFossilFuelMoney pledge are there to help candidates stay in compliance. They are NOT there to help candidates weasel out of it,” David Turnbull, a spokesman for Oil Change U.S., tweeted. “This [email protected] at #ClimateTownHall feels very much like that latter. And that’s…not a good look.”
RL Miller, political director of the political action committee Climate Hawks Vote and a member of the No Fossil Fuel Money Coalition, said in a statement that she is “disappointed to see Vice President Biden attempting to cite the technicalities of the pledge rather than simply comply with its spirit.” She also urged him to cancel the event.
At the end of Biden’s time slot, Cooper clarified that Goldman does not have day-to-day duties at Western LNG.
“What I was told by my staff is that he did not have any responsibility relating to the company ― he was not on the board, he was not involved at all in the operation of the company at all,” Biden said. “If that turns out to be true then I will not in any way accept his help.”
“We check every single contribution,” Biden added. “That’s why we don’t list them immediately.”
This article has been updated with a call from the Sunrise Movement for Biden to cancel the fundraiser.
CORRECTION: This article had been updated to note that it was CNBC, not The Intercept, that first broke the story on the Thursday fundraiser in New York. It also includes additional comments and a response from Biden’s campaign about Goldman.