Catherine Cortez Masto – Fact-checking whether Senate hopeful Adam Laxalt helped oil industry then got campaign money from it

Catherine Cortez Masto – Fact-checking whether Senate hopeful Adam Laxalt helped oil industry then got campaign money from it

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.

Climate change investigations 

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.” 

Laxalt’s actions

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.”

The same day, Exxon filed a court motion to block a demand for documents by the Massachusetts attorney general, who had begun investigating Exxon. 

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.”

Campaign spending for Laxalt

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.

Charles and David Koch launched the super PAC in 2014 and closed down its operations on July 30, 2019.

Our ruling

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.

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Source: PolitiFact.

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