A lobbyist with a history of setting up corporate-funded dark money groups is the president of a new effort that aims to block legislation to upgrade a key Nevada renewable energy law.

Scott Bensing is the president and treasurer of Secure Nevada’s Future, according to disclosure forms that the group filed with the state on May 23. (Search for the group here.)

The group opposes legislation that would set Nevada on a path to source 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, up from a goal of 25% by 2025, which the state is on track to meet easily. Jon Ralston at the Nevada Independent first reported on Secure Nevada’s Future’s effort last week.

Bensing served as Chief of Staff to former Senator John Ensign from 2000 to 2006, and later as the Executive Director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). He now runs a lobbying and consulting firm called “SB Strategic Consulting,” based in Reno.

A Secure Nevada's Future Facebook against AB206

A Secure Nevada’s Future Facebook against AB206

Bensing has a history of setting up dark money groups

Bensing was listed in Secure Nevada’s Future’s state filing as affiliated with the Gober Group, an Austin, TX-based law firm which lists “Campaign Finance Compliance & Reporting for Advocacy Groups, Associations, Candidates, Companies, Individuals, PACs, Political Parties & Super PACs” as one of its areas of expertise. Attorney Chris Gober of that firm also served as general counsel for the NRSC, and as Ensign’s lawyer during investigations over whether he had broken the law in the aftermath of his affair and resignation.

Bensing and Gober have a history of helming corporate-funded groups that have played fast and loose with campaigning rules. In 2011, the two formed Freedom Path, a 501(c)(4) non-profit – the kind which has not had to disclose its donors since the Citizens United decision, but which is supposed to stick to issue advocacy and not get involved in political campaigns. Despite telling the IRS it would stay out of politics, Freedom Path ran television ads and sent direct mailers in 2012 which all seemed to support Utah Senator Orrin Hatch in his contested primary. Freedom Path did not disclose its donors, but tax documents from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America revealed that the pharmaceutical industry trade group provided much of Freedom Path’s funding – to the tune of $1 million in 2011 and 2012, according to the Center for Public Integrity. The pharma group was a longtime supporter of Hatch.

Money Behind Secure Nevada Future Still Unclear

It’s not known whether Bensing and Gober are following the same playbook they used with Freedom Path at Secure Nevada’s Future by securing funding from corporate interests. Someone is clearly paying for the effort, which has hired an executive director and says it is “running digital ads and calling lawmakers” to kill the legislation. The primary companies which have sought to neuter the bill via amendments have been Sheldon Adelson’s Sands Corporation, Wynn Resorts, and the monopoly utility NV Energy, but it is not currently known whether they or others are currently funding the Secure Nevada Future effort.

Ironically, two of the clients which Bensing lists in separate disclosures he filed as a lobbyist at the Nevada legislature are supporters of the effort to increase the renewable energy target. Bensing represents Switch, a data center company which has been outspoken about the need for more renewable energy, and the Valley Electric Authority, a cooperative utility which has also moved toward renewable energy and supported the legislation, albeit in a moderated form. Carson City is a small town, and lobbyists’ conflicts of interest are not uncommon, but the companies may want to consider a new lobbyist over the one who is currently trying to submarine the bill they support via a dark money group.

Posted by David Pomerantz

David Pomerantz is the Executive Director of the Energy and Policy Institute.