The fracas over Hillary Clinton’s ties to the oil-and-gas industry intensified Sunday as the Democratic front-runner said she feels “sorry” for young voters who believe the attacks by her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders.
Mr. Sanders blasted the former secretary of state last week for accepting more than $4.5 million from the industry, which he based on data released by Greenpeace that includes donations from lobbyists and industry employees both to her campaign and to pro-Clinton super PACs.
“I feel sorry sometimes for the young people who, you know, believe this,” Mrs. Clinton said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “They don’t do their own research. And I’m glad that we now can point to reliable, independent analysis to say, ‘No, it’s just not true.’”
The debate over her fossil fuel donations became personal last week when she was filmed at a campaign rally angrily accusing the Sanders campaign of “lying,” injecting an element of mudslinging in the otherwise relatively civil campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Mr. Sanders, who has demanded an apology, refused to back down Sunday, arguing that Mrs. Clinton’s campaign contributions call into question her commitment to fighting global warming.
“No, we were not lying. We were telling the truth,” Mr. Sanders said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And the point here is that climate change is one of the great crises facing this country. We have got to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, transform our energy system, not take money from paid lobbyists from that industry.”
Some fact-checking websites have raised questions about the fairness of the attack, noting that the contributions constitute a tiny percentage of Mrs. Clinton’s overall fundraising and that her campaign has no control over the activities of super PACs.
Asked Sunday whether it’s fair to describe donors who have multiple clients as “fossil fuel lobbyists,” Mr. Sanders said voters should make that decision.
“Well, let the voters decide whether paid lobbyists who represent the fossil fuel industry — 43 of them give maximum personal contributions to the Clinton campaign — and whether or not these same people are out in some cases bundling, trying to bring in even more money,” Mr. Sanders said. “I don’t think that we are distorting reality. That’s the simple reality.”
Clearly the issue has struck a nerve with Mrs. Clinton. A video showing her jabbing a finger at a Greenpeace activist a Thursday campaign rally in Syracuse, New York, has since gone viral.
“I have money from people who work for fossil fuel companies,” Mrs. Clinton says in the video posted online by Greenpeace. “I’m so sick. I’m so sick of the Sanders campaign lying about me. I’m sick of it.”
Mrs. Clinton holds a comfortable lead over Mr. Sanders in terms of delegates, although polls show Mr. Sanders ahead in Wisconsin, which holds its Democratic and Republican presidential primaries on Tuesday.
Mrs. Clinton defended her record Sunday on climate change, saying, “I have been working to try to move us away from fossil fuels for many years.”
“When I was in the Senate, I introduced legislation to take away the subsidies,” Mrs. Clinton said. “I voted against Dick Cheney’s energy bill in 2005. And I could go on and on.”
Mr. Sanders has acknowledged that he has received about $50,000 in donations from those working in the oil-and-gas industry, but drew a distinction between employees and lobbyists.
“That is very different from taking money from lobbyists, people who are working day and night in defense of that industry,” Mr. Sanders said. “And that has been a confusing point. Workers, yes. We get money from workers in every industry in the country. So does Clinton. But there is a difference between getting money from a worker and somebody whose job it is to represent that industry.”
Greenpeace has asked all presidential candidates to sign a pledge to “reject future fossil fuel contributions,” which Mr. Sanders has signed but Mrs. Clinton has not.
“That level of coziness makes voters like me who care about climate change uncomfortable,” said Greenpeace activist Eva Resnick-Day, who confronted Mrs. Clinton at the rally, in a Thursday post. “To prove to people that she’s really serious about keeping fossil fuels in the ground, she needs to stop taking that money today.”