CNN commentator bashes Green New Deal but doesn’t disclose major conflicts of interest

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

CNN political commentator Scott Jennings attacked the Green New Deal because it would allegedly hurt the energy and agriculture sectors. But CNN and Jennings didn’t disclose that his public relations company has represented clients in both industries, including a power company, petroleum supplier association, and farm bureau.

Jennings is a Republican consultant who is a co-founder and partner of RunSwitch, a public relations firm that describes its employees as  “experts on issues that impact government regulated industries.” RunSwitch was recently in the news because Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann’s family hired the firm “to offer professional counsel” after a video of the teenager and Native American activist Nathan Phillips went viral.

During the February 13 edition of CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time, Jennings heavily criticized the Green New Deal, a nonbinding resolution proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), saying, “to call this policy half-baked would be in, you know, I'm not even sure the Democrats turned the oven on yet.” Jennings went on to discuss the proposal’s “policy implications for the energy sector, for the manufacturing sector, for the agriculture sector,” claiming that "thousands of jobs ... would be impacted in the Midwest, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, North Dakota, where Joe Manchin is in West Virginia, in my home state of Kentucky. This would dramatically fundamentally alter the U.S. economy and would put a lot of people out of work.”

There was no mention of Jennings' major conflicts of interest during the Green New Deal discussion. 

RunSwitch’s recent clients include American Municipal Power (AMP), “a nonprofit corporation that owns and operates electric facilities.” AMP uses fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and diesel for power generation and has a history of conflict with environmental rules: In 2010, AMP retired its coal-fired power plant near Marietta, OH, “under a settlement to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act.”

In December 2016, according to its Facebook page, RunSwitch worked with the Kentucky Petroleum Marketers Association, a nonprofit statewide trade association that “is made up of representatives of all segments of the petroleum industry” and promotes Kentucky’s petroleum industry.

Kentucky Electric Cooperatives, a state association that supports Kentucky's “24 local distribution co-ops and two ‘generation & transmission’ co-ops,” has also been a RunSwitch client.  

During his CNN appearance, Jennings talked about “the policy implications” of the Green New Deal on “the agriculture sector” without disclosing that RunSwitch has done work in that industry. The firm stated in December 2018 that one of its clients is the Kentucky Farm Bureau, which represents “the interests of agricultural producers and rural communities.”

Jennings could have even more conflicts of interest than those reported in this piece since, as the Center for Public Integrity wrote in a 2015 report, public relations firms are “not subject to federal disclosure rules." For example, the firm’s site references having 11 Fortune 500 clients but doesn’t specifically list them.

RunSwitch’s Facebook page promoted Jennings’ appearance on Cuomo Prime Time, writing, “RunSwitch PR Partner @Scott Jennings appeared on Cuomo Prime Time Wednesday with his thoughts on the political ramifications of the Green New Deal.”

Media Matters asked RunSwitch for comment and whether it has clients in the energy, manufacturing, and agriculture sectors. The firm did not respond to that request. CNN also did not respond to a request for comment.