PART 1: Why Do the Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum and Fresh Energy *Still* Have the Same Liberal Funders?

Taking money from leftist environmental groups might not be so bad if MNCEF didn’t toe the line on their policies. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

MN Conservative Energy Forum

The “Conservative” Energy Network is a group of organizations that receive vast amounts of money from liberal groups while masquerading as conservative voices on energy policy. These groups deceptively co-opt conservative-sounding language to push for liberal environmentalist policies, and we have one of these phony conservative groups right here in Minnesota, the Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum (MNCEF).

Last summer, I wrote an article asking this simple question: Why do the Minnesota “Conservative” Energy Forum (MNCEF) and liberal Fresh Energy have the same liberal funders? This question is still relevant today.

This article is the first in a series of posts that will examine MNCEF, their funders, and most importantly, the policies they advocate for.

The Big Money Behind Minnesota’s Green Groups

Renewable energy special interest groups spend millions of dollars every year to influence energy policy in Minnesota.

For example, the McKnight Foundation, which came under scrutiny for issuing a grant for $50,000 that would have financed an ethically dubious, hand-crafted position for liberal DFL Representative Jamie Long at the University of Minnesota’s Energy Transition Lab to “provide a truth squad” to “debunk” Center of the American Experiment’s work on energy issues, gave more than $8.5 million to influence energy policy in Minnesota in 2019, alone.

Another major funder of wind and solar special interest groups in Minnesota is the Energy Foundation, which disbursed $1,978,000 to a dozen groups who promote these energy sources in 2017, the most recent year that grants are viewable from their website.

I’ve compiled the grantees in the image below.

As you can see, this list is a Who’s Who of liberal environmental groups in Minnesota including the intentionally misleading Fresh Energy, the anti-mininganti-agriculture Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the Citizen’s Utility Board, which puts renewables above ratepayers, Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, which produces the bogus “clean jobs” report that American Experiment has debunked multiple times; and the Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum.

MNCEF received $150,000 from the Energy Foundation in 2017. According to MNCEF’s tax filings with the IRS, the group only raised a total of $175,180 that year, meaning nearly 86 percent of all the money raised by the group came from liberal environmental funders. This should raise big red flags for all Minnesota conservatives.

Why Do Green Groups Spend So Much Money?

Some may question why these groups pour millions of dollars into influencing energy policy in Minnesota every single year, but it is actually completely rational. It is rational because the market for intermittent renewable energy sources like wind and solar would completely evaporate without government support in the form of generous federal subsides, state renewable energy mandates, and profit seeking behavior from government-approved monopoly utility companies like Xcel Energy.

Because the wind and solar industries are entirely dependent upon government policies for their existence, it makes sense that their advocates would focus most of their time and resources on influencing public policy to grow their market share, but principled conservative lawmakers are often the largest obstacle standing in their way.

This is where groups like MNCEF come in.

Conservative lawmakers don’t generally support mandates or subsidies in any sector of the economy, but despite their ideological tendency to oppose government intervention in free markets, some otherwise-conservative lawmakers have an urge to use energy and environmental issues as a bargaining chip with their constituents to somehow make up for their conservative voting record in other by areas (see former Congressman Erik Paulsen’s awful anti-mining ad as a case in point).

Liberal environmental funders aren’t stupid. They understand this dynamic and seek to exploit it. This is why they fund phony conservative groups like MNCEF to give nervous Republicans enough plausible deniability to vote for liberal environmental polices. At least that is my read on the situation.


Taking money from leftist environmental groups might not be so bad if MNCEF didn’t toe the line on their policies. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Time after time, MNCEF uses intentionally misleading language to try and sell conservatives on policies that are more akin to the Green New Deal than the pro-American energy policies advocated by the Trump administration.

The remainder of this series will focus on the polices advocated for by MNCEF, and the misleading way in which they advocate for them.


Isaac Orr
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Isaac Orr is a Policy Fellow at Center of the American Experiment, where he writes about energy and environmental issues.