The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is a 501(c)(4) organization that promotes candidates supporting the environmentalist agenda. The LCV also advocates for tougher environmental standards and educates voters on its issues. It was founded in 1969 by environmentalist David Brower and is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The LCV also has 34 state affiliates that work on environmental issues on the state and local level.
The LCV produces a scorecard called the “National Environmental Scorecard” which scores votes on issues such as clean air, energy, and land use. In 2015, the Senate average score was 45% and the House average was 41%.
The League of Conservation Voters advocates for a left-of-center agenda in a number of policy areas.
Expanded Offshore Drilling in the Arctic
In 2015, Royal Dutch Shell abruptly ceased all drilling operations in the Arctic off of Alaska’s coasts largely due to low oil prices and concerns over a potential Hillary Clinton presidency. In November 2016, President Barack Obama closed the Arctic to new oil and gas drilling for five years.
Oil and Natural Gas Exports
After a 40-year ban, the U.S. began to export oil in 2016, which some energy experts believe has already shifted power away from OPEC and Russia. When the U.S. House of Representatives voted to lift the ban, the LCV released a statement denouncing the “radical leadership” and accusing them of being “more concerned with lining the pockets of Big Oil than standing up for American families.” The LCV went on to call the legislation a “giveaway to polluters” and called for a transition to clean energy.
The LCV strongly supported the Obama administration’s “Clean Power Plan,” which set national limits of carbon dioxide emissions. The group opposed efforts in Congress to block implementation of the plan.
The LCV has also been supportive of a carbon tax, and opposed efforts to cut funding for climate change research, even though many predictions related to climate change have turned out to be false.
Dakota Access Pipeline
In 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and other protesters came out in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil pipeline project in North Dakota. The arguments against the pipeline were often rooted in half-truths and falsehoods concerning both water quality and Native American rights. The LCV declared its support for the tribe, stating, “No community should have to jeopardize their access to clean water, sacrifice their beliefs or their places of cultural and spiritual importance.”
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
The LCV calls the current voluntary labeling system of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) “inadequate” for telling consumers what is in their food, and has called for laws requiring food manufacturers to label products containing them.  The demand for mandatory labeling comes despite the fact that no evidence has been produced showing that genetically engineered (GE) food was less safe than non-GE food. Slate wrote in 2015 that the case against GMOs was full of “errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies.”
“Clean Energy” Programs
Among the programs the LCV has supported are Victory Bonds for Clean Energy, a proposal which would have required the Secretary of the Treasury to issue $50 billion worth of bonds which would have been used to finance research into wind, solar, and fuel cell technologies. The LCV has also supported other programs to give additional funding to clean energy research. The LCV opposes cuts to existing Department of Energy clean energy programs. The support for clean energy programs comes despite the growing body of evidence suggesting that wind and solar are unlikely to be affordable without enormous government subsidies.
In March 2018, LCV state policy director Bill Holland announced that LCV would begin a $2 million campaign that emphasizes pushing its anti-natural gas and fossil fuels agenda at the state and local levels. The campaign targets individuals running for state and local offices, including incumbent officials up for re-election.
Federal Land Ownership
The LCV has supported measures to restrict logging in national forests. It has also opposed efforts by Western state lawmakers to rein in the power of the executive branch to designate “national monuments.” The Federal government owns nearly 50% of the land in the West. There have been documented problems with the management of federal lands, especially national forests. The 2015 forest fires that burned over 1.4 million acres in the Northwest were a sign to some experts that better management of public lands was needed.
Supreme Court Nominees
Following Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination by President Trump to the Supreme Court in July 2018, the LCV voiced its opposition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. “We will fight this every step of the way,” LCV tweeted. 
2018 Midterm Election
The LCV endorsed Erik Jones in his failed bid for nomination to replace Rodney Davis (R) in Illinois’ 13th Congressional District.
The organization also announced its support for Bill Nelson for a U.S. Senate seat up for election in Florida in 2018, and has launched attacks on Nelson’s opponent, Florida Governor. Rick Scott (R).
In 2018, the LCV spent $1 million in placing digital advertisements to heavily pressure certain Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to vote for the reauthorization of a public parks bill.
The LCV Action Fund endorsed Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) for reelection in the 2018 midterm election.  The LCV Action Fund also gave Whitehouse’s 2018 reelection committee $139,372.  Whitehouse has been criticized for opposing “dark money” (funding for organizations that don’t disclose their donors) while accepting donations from the LCV, which itself has been criticized as a “‘dark money’ heavyweight” by groups on the Left and Right, including the left-leaning Center for Public Integrity. 
2016 General Election
The LCV are very involved in the political process. In 2016, they endorsed 16 candidates for Senate and 58 candidates for the House. They also endorsed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for President. All of the candidates the LCV endorsed were Democrats.
On the other end of the spectrum, the LCV has the “dirty dozen” who are candidates that they view as opponents of the environment, “regardless of political affiliation.” In 2016, those candidates were:
- Presidential candidate Donald Trump (R)
- U.S. Senate candidate Darryl Glenn (R-Colorado)
- U.S. Senate candidate Joe Heck (R-Nevada)
- U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.)
- U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio)
- U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania)
- U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin)
- U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado)
- U.S. Rep. David Jolly (R-Florida)
- U.S. House candidate Jason Lewis (R-Minnesota)
- U.S. Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Nevada)
- U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas)
Every member of the “dirty dozen” was a Republican.
According to OpenSecrets.org, the LCV spent $15,666,771 in the 2016 elections. Of that amount, $8,299,525 was spent against Republicans and $7,367,246 was spent to help Democrats.
They also received $3 million from Boston investor Robert Grantham in three separate donations, $3 million from the Environment America Action Fund, $500,000 from Bain Capital’s Joshua Bekenstein, and $400,000 from Senate Majority PAC, which has ties to numerous Democratic Senators and operatives.
The bulk of LCV’s election spending was in support of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. They spent $6,281,871 on her behalf and spent $2,149,901 opposing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
The largest single Senate race the LCV was involved in was in the Nevada U.S. Senate race to replace retiring Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid. They spent $2,149,901 against Republican nominee Joe Heck and $863,696 in favor of Democrat Catherine Cortez-Masto. Masto defeated Heck.
Other races the LCV spent heavily in were $1,428,036 trying to defeat Senator Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania, $1,091,348 trying to defeat Senator Richard Burr from North Carolina, and $1,057,176 trying to defeat Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin. They also spent $121,554 in support of Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate Russ Feingold. The LCV lost all three races as well.
2014 Midterm Election
In the 2014 midterms, the LCV spent $8,987,431 with $3,926,195 spent against Republicans and $2,647,648 spent on behalf of Democrats. The largest expenditures were in the North Carolina U.S. Senate race where they spent $2,620,499 on behalf of Democrat Kay Hagan and $2,434,865 opposing Republican Thom Tillis. Tillis was the victor in the race.
Robert Grantham was the largest single donor to LCV in 2014, donating $1,650,000. Joshua Bekenstein donated a grand total of $1,000,000 in two separate donations. George Soros and the AFSCME union donated $500,000 apiece. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) donated $200,000. Senate Majority PAC donated $350,000. Next Gen Climate Action, which was founded by Tom Steyer, donated $775,000.
2012 General Election
In 2012, the LCV was a relatively minor player in the elections. Its biggest expenditure ($1,099,450) was targeted against Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The second and only other expenditure over $500,000 was $755,407 targeting Arizona Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Flake. Flake won his race. The LCV only spent $2,605,809 in the entire election cycle.
The largest source of revenue for the LCV in 2012 was money moved around from the other organizations in its umbrella. The largest single outside donor that year was Scott Nathan who gave $150,000.
Federal Judicial Confirmations
The LCV on January 31, 2019 stated its opposition to the confirmation of Neomi Rao, President Trump’s nominee for a seat on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. In a letter released by the group, it accuses Rao of demeaning the integrity of the court. A report that the LCV created questions Rao’s objectivity because “conservative judges view [the environment and public health] under the narrow lens of corporate profits, and are unable or uninterested in fairly considering the impacts…and other non-monetary costs or benefits.” The organization also views Rao’s experience at the Heritage foundation and the Federalist Society as evidence of extremism. 
Gene Karpinski is the president of the League of Conservation Voters. He has served in that position since April 2006. Before then, he served on the organization’s board of directors and political committee.
The LCV also has a Board of Directors which contains numerous prominent liberal activists. The chair of the board is Carol Browner, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and Director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Policy. Browner is also a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.
The vice chair and the only Republican on the board is former U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) who is now a lobbyist. During the 2016 Presidential election, Boehlert endorsed Hillary Clinton. Boehlert also joined in a letter with 29 other former Republican lawmakers denouncing Donald Trump.
Other environmental organizations are represented on the LCV board such as Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, NextGen Climate, GreenLatinos, and The Wilderness Society. Some progressive groups and foundations such as the Turner Foundation, the Hip Hop Caucus, and Bloomberg Philanthropies also have representation on the LCV board.
Relationship With Other Organizations
The LCV frequently coordinates with other progressive and environmental organizations. On November 2, 2016; the LCV released a joint press release with Emily’s List and the Latino Victory Fund in support of Democrat Nanette Barragan in her U.S. House race in the 44th California Congressional District. “Barragán is committed to protecting the air, water and health of her constituents over the profits of corporate polluters and we are proud to stand with her in this race and push back against these outrageous attacks.” the LCV said in the release.
On October 21, 2016; the LCV and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund issued a joint endorsement of Democrat Matt Heinz in the Arizona Second Congressional District. The LCV called Heinz a “strong environmental ally” and promised that he would build on his “strong record” in Congress.
The United Steelworkers union and LCV created a joint super PAC called the New American Jobs Fund that played in Senate races all over the country. The PAC announced plans to spend up to $4 million in Nevada, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania on behalf of a “pro-conservation and pro-jobs” Senate majority.
The LCV, Sierra Club, and Environmental Defense Action Fund launched a $1.85 million media blitz against Nevada Republican Senate candidate Joe Heck in October 2016. The ads, in both English and Spanish, attacked Heck on climate change and his views on solar power.
LCV President Gene Karpinski addressed the Democratic National Convention in 2016. The organization has been given money by Senate Majority PAC, the quasi-official Democratic Senate PAC, and other environmental organizations.
The League of Conservation Voters has been accused of underhanded election tactics. In 2012, a Contra Costa County, California news site reported that one their readers had been sent direct mail by a group connected to the LCV. According to the reader, the LCV Education Fund sent them a “voter registration form” and urged them to fill it out. The reader contacted their registrar of voters and they told them they did not send the form.
Also see Catalist (For-Profit)
The LCV, along with many progressive organizations, uses a company called Catalist to provide its voter lists and data. Some campaign finance lawyers argue that providing the lists below market value, as Catalist does, is a form of an in-kind contribution that is not reported. Catalist only does business with Democrats and progressive organizations.
Catalist, which has ties to allies of the Clinton family, was also accused of facilitating illegal coordination between Democrats and progressive organizations such as LCV. Under Federal campaign finance laws, independent organizations and political candidates and parties cannot coordinate.
Promoting Left-Wing Causes Over Environmentalism
Ken Tomlinson, the former editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest, accused the LCV of being more interested in promoting left-wing causes and progressives than in environmental conservation. He took issue with the group’s support of then-U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Virginia). Tomlinson argued that Perriello’s Virginia 5th Congressional district was facing more pressing environmental challenges on the state and local level and the resources devoted to saving Perriello would be better spent on state and local action.
In May 2018, LCV honored Andrew Sabin, a billionaire who contributed to President Trump’s fundraising Super PAC, Trump Victory. LCV’s awarding Sabin as its “Environmental Leader Honoree” was criticized by some groups on the Left, including ThinkProgress.
The League of Conservation Voters is a 501(c)(4) advocacy nonprofit, so under IRS rules it is not required to disclose its donors.
The League of Conservation Voters’ Form 990 IRS filing for 2016 is available here.