Smear campaign? FL ethics panel dismisses complaint against clean-energy advocate

By: - March 16, 2021 1:22 pm
climate heat air

Excessive heat fueled by climate change contributes to drought, wildfires, crop failures, and impaired human health. Getty Images

The Florida Commission on Ethics has dismissed a complaint against clean-energy advocate Alissa Jean Schafer, who is both an elected official in Broward County and works for the Energy and Policy Institute, which advocates for clean-energy policies.

Schafer says the complaint, filed by Alabama-based JobKeeper Alliance, was part of a smear campaign designed to undermine her work in support of rooftop solar.

“The timeline of events surrounding this smear campaign paints a picture of an attempt to personally intimidate me and discredit my work focused on utility accountability,” Schafer told the Phoenix on Tuesday. “Holding special interests accountable places a bit of a target on my back, but to me that simply underscores the importance of this work.”

Schafer sits on the Broward Soil and Water Conservation District board and is a research and communications specialist for the Energy and Policy Institute.

She said JobKeeper Alliance attacked her in a press statement, blogs and Facebook ads in connection with “research that I had published shining a light on potential utility involvement in efforts to undercut rooftop solar at the Florida Public Service Commission, as well as public statements I had made criticizing utility connections to amendments associated with corporate special interests on the 2020 ballot.”

Her report on rooftop solar can be read here.

Following an investigation, the Commission on Ethics found “no probable cause” to believe JobKeeper’s allegation that Schafer failed to properly disclose secondary sources of income, in violation of Florida’s financial disclosure laws for elected officials.

JobKeeper alleged the Energy and Policy Institute does not exist as a corporate entity, implying that Schafer’s secondary income must have come from a source she improperly failed to disclose.

“The public deserves to know who pays the salaries of Alissa Schafer … and the many others who work under the name Energy and Policy Institute,” said Kimberly Adams, JobKeeper’s executive director, in a press statement.

On its website, Adams’ organization says, “JobKeeper Alliance is committed to fighting the radical efforts of job-killing environmentalists.”

Ethics investigator Melody Hadley reported she found the Energy and Policy Institute is, as Schafer stated, a legitimate “unincorporated association based in California that operates an investigative policy website” and which has published many articles and reports authored by Schafer.

“There is no evidence to substantiate the allegation,” Hadley said of JobKeeper’s complaint.

The institute states on its website that it is funded by charitable foundations that support climate action and environmental conservation. Schafer said the institute does not accept funding from corporations, trade associations, or governments, including the solar industry, in order to report on energy-related activities free of any conflicts of interest.

In contrast, Schafer said, JobKeeper Alliance advocates for jobs chiefly in traditional utilities’ fuel sources such as coal and gas, associated with greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, and less for jobs that would be available in the clean energy sector if it is allowed to fully develop.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.