Joseph R. Biden Jr. seemed momentarily caught off guard on Wednesday in a nationally televised climate change forum about whether a host of a fund-raising event for him had ties to the fossil fuel industry. Mr. Biden, who has pledged not to take money from oil and gas executives, was confronted by an audience member about a high-dollar fund-raiser on his schedule on Thursday in New York with an executive named Andrew Goldman.
Mr. Biden denied Mr. Goldman was a fossil fuel executive. The pledge he signed binds him not to take contributions of more than $200 from “S.E.C.-named executives of fossil fuel companies.’’ The former vice president told the CNN host Anderson Cooper that Mr. Goldman was not listed as an executive in fossil fuel company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. “That’s what we look at,’’ Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Cooper, who seemed apprised in advance of the issue raised by the audience member, pressed Mr. Biden, saying Mr. Goldman “has a company called Western LNG” that announced it was building an offshore terminal in western Canada to export natural gas.
“Well, I didn’t realize he does that,’’ Mr. Biden replied. “I’m going to look at what you just told me and find out if that’s accurate.’’
Moments later, a senior adviser to the Biden campaign, Symone D. Sanders, attempted to rebut the suggestion that Mr. Goldman was an industry executive, writing on Twitter that he is “not involved in the day to day operation” of a fossil fuel company. “He’s not on the board of the company, nor the board of the portfolio company.”
On Western LNG’s website, Mr. Goldman is listed as a co-founder of the Houston-based company, which says it develops export terminals for liquefied natural gas. A 2018 press release associated with the company also described Mr. Goldman as “a long-term investor in the liquefied natural gas sector.”
Mr. Goldman is identified as a co-host of the fund-raiser Mr. Biden is scheduled to attend. Attendees are asked to contribute $2,800, according to an invitation.
David Turnbull, a spokesman for the group Oil Change U.S., which is involved in the “No Fossil Fuel Money” pledge that Mr. Biden and other candidates have signed, said that while the fund-raiser with Mr. Goldman “may not technically violate the ‘No Fossil Fuel Money’ pledge as we have defined it, it pretty clearly goes against the spirit of the pledge.”
“We defined the rules of the pledge with the intent of making it easier for candidates to live up to it, not to provide loopholes for candidates to exploit in order to keep raising funding from fossil fuel related sources,” Mr. Turnbull said.
In his plan to address the climate crisis, Mr. Biden calls for ending subsidies for fossil fuels, and promises that his administration would “take action against fossil fuel companies and other polluters who put profit over people and knowingly harm our environment and poison our communities’ air, land, and water, or conceal information regarding potential environmental and health risks.”
The Biden campaign had no comment when asked if Mr. Biden, who is often resistant to offering apologies in the face of criticism, still planned to attend the fund-raiser. Late Wednesday, the campaign announced Mr. Biden would attend “finance events in New York City” on Thursday, which, as usual, will be open to journalists representing the news media pool.
At the end of Mr. Biden’s segment during the climate forum, which included 10 top Democratic presidential candidates, Mr. Cooper returned to the topic to clarify that Mr. Goldman “currently doesn’t have day to day responsibilities” in the gas exporter.
Mr. Biden said his campaign vets every contribution.
“What I was told by my staff is that he did not have any responsibility related to the company,” he said, referring to Mr. Goldman. “He was not on the board, he was not involved at all in the operation of the company at all. But if that turns out to be true, then I will not in any way accept his help.”