2022 | Politics

Blair dismisses criticism of Sierra Club donation, saying $2,000 went to national chapter in 2017

Club officials say donation did not affect local endorsement of the county executive candidate

share this

David Blair

File Photo

The website of the David and Mikel Blair Family Foundation lists numerous partners that have received money from the organization since it was created in 2008.

One is the Sierra Club — the group whose local county chapter endorsed David Blair for county executive last month, stirring controversy in local environmental circles. The chapter passed over incumbent Marc Elrich and at-large County Council Member Hans Riemer, Blair’s two major rivals, to choose a candidate with no prior experience in elected office or a track record on environmental issues. Tech CEO Peter James is also running in the Democratic primary for county executive.

After the chapter announced its endorsement, some on social media and elsewhere noted the listing of the Sierra Club as a partner on the foundation’s website and questioned whether there was a connection to the club’s endorsement. 

Blair and multiple local Sierra Club members, however, said the recognition on the foundation website stems from a $2,000 donation to the Sierra Club’s national foundation in 2017. Club members said the donation had no bearing on their decision to endorse Blair.

In an interview, Blair said his foundation made the donation in November 2017, around the time that former president Donald Trump had pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change. 

Blair said it’s the policy of the foundation to list all organizations that receive donations on its website. There are well over 50 partners listed on the website.

In response to the claims of impropriety in the Sierra Club’s endorsement process, Blair said it would be ridiculous for the Sierra Club to jeopardize its good standing by letting a $2,000 donation from more than four years ago determine its endorsement.

“The Sierra Club has been around for over 100 years leading the nation in environmental issues, and to question their integrity is outrageous,” Blair said.

Dave Sears, political chair of the Sierra Club’s Montgomery Group, oversaw the local chapter’s endorsement process. He said in an interview that neither he nor any other member knew about the $2,000 given to the national foundation until some political observers noted it after the club announced its endorsement.

“This Blair Foundation grant to Sierra Club was totally unknown by every single person who was involved in the endorsement decision,” Sears said.

Neither he nor Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, said they could reveal how many members of the local chapter voted to endorse Blair versus the other candidates. But they said the endorsement process was exhaustive and included multiple interviews and questionnaires.

Tulkin said he was not aware of any donations from the Blair foundation to the state chapter in the 10 years that he has served as state director. Like Sears, he said that no one involved in the endorsement process knew about the $2,000 donation until after the local chapter endorsed Blair.

“The Maryland chapter [of the Sierra Club] has no relationship with the Blair foundation and it didn’t factor into our endorsement process,” Tulkin said. He said he helps with the endorsement process as a senior official, along with Sears and others.

The primary election is July 19. The general election is Nov. 8.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com