That's the gist of Senator Jeff Tarte's latest campaign finance report submitted Monday, August 3rd.
Tarte raised over $55,000 in the first half of this year - a hefty sum for someone in a safe seat during a non-election year. Most of that rolled in via seven $5,000 checks.
The largest totals came from those clearly affiliated with the 'Big Solar' lobby. Over $17,000 in contributions came from those clearly associated with the renewable energy industry - including a $5,100 check from Jay Faison of Charlotte.
Faison is a big-dog in the Charlotte business community who just announced a $175 million campaign to turn the GOP 'green'. If you are wondering why Faison's check was only $5,100 when he’s planning on spending millions, it's because $5,100 is the maximum contribution from an individual allowed by NC campaign finance law.
Most of the obvious 'Big Solar' money - including the check from Faison - came from a May 7th fundraiser for Tarte held in conjunction with Congressman Richard Hudson. In fact, it looks like the only checks from that date are linked to ‘Big Solar’.
However, the most interesting things are not always the most obvious.
Tarte’s current finance report also includes $10,000 in donations from one Don Rainey and his spouse in the form of two $5,000 checks on June 29th.. A review of previous reports shows the Rainey’s also donated $10,000 to the Tarte campaign in June of last year – making them one of Tarte’s largest benefactors since he joined the State Senate.
Who is Don Rainey?
Rainey’s finance report information lists his occupation as ‘Venture Capitalist’ and his employer as a company called GrowTech Ventures. According to the website CrunchBase.com which tracks venture capital placements, GrowTech Ventures made a $2.1 million dollar investment in a Raleigh area firm called The Royalty Exchange in 2013. Rainey is listed as the GrowTech partner behind the transaction. SEC filings also list Rainey as a Royalty Exchange Director.
One of the main offerings on the Royalty Exchange website currently is for a solar farm. The listing is described as follows:
“A solar development company has recently finished installation of a 1.4MW solar power farm that went into operation on March 20th, 2015 in North Carolina. They have created an opportunity for the right investor interested in millions in federal and state tax credits as well as a share of the PPA revenue under contract with Dominion Power.”
Renewable energy has been a contentious issue for the Republican controlled legislature in Raleigh this session. There has been a strong move to repeal/reduce the renewable energy mandates and tax credits for power companies that operate in the state. Without those mandates they would likely not buy as much power from solar farms and other renewable energy providers.
Clearly not everyone likes that idea.
In response, 'Big Solar' has been pumping a lot of money and resources into campaign coffers, consultants, and even the NCGOP itself. The conservative Civitas Institute covered this in detail in a recent report – specifically siting a political consultant named Paul Shumaker as someone working to oppose reducing these mandates.
When asked about the dollars from this special interest group, one of Senator Tarte's campaign consultants, Larry Shaheen of Carolinas Political Consulting, indicated the following:
• Tarte is a supporter of the RPS - Renewable Portfolio Standard.
• He does not expect a separate bill on its extension.
• Its retention/extension may very well be included in the budget conference report.
What was the largest check from Senator Tarte paid out during the first six months of this year?
$6,000 to Paul Shumaker's consulting firm, Capitol Communications.
To be clear, this story is not about whether renewable energy is good or bad. It is not even about whether the state has a vested interest in supporting it.
It is about providing a little transparency into how our political process and elected officials operate and where the money comes from to support it. It is up to readers to decide if that goal is being met.
2014 2nd Quarter
SEC report showing Don Rainey as Royalty Exchange Director
CrunchBase listing for Royalty Exchange
Roylty Exchange NC solar opportunity.
Civitas Institute article