Whatever your framework and whether you've been camped out in South Carolina or Florida of late, nary a candidate debate or stump speech goes by these days where something related to green-energy technology and innovation isn't mentioned in some form or another.

But that's not to say there aren't some pretty big distinctions.

Broadly speaking, all three leading Democrats favor a huge boost for what Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., likes to call "green-collar" jobs, funded by ending subsidies for oil and coal companies. They also support mandatory cap-and-trade programs for carbon emissions that would fund cleantech research and commercialization (See Government VC).

Republican candidates are more likely to favor an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach to energy investment: nuclear power, ethanol, biodiesel, solar, wind and coal -- along with opening up ANWR, the controversial Alaskan oil fields. They're a little vaguer however, and also differ from one another, on the extent and nature of the role for governmental support in developing new technologies and supporting these industries.

And members of the cleantech community have started to line up behind their respective man -- or woman.

With a deep environmental record, Clinton has culled support among folks at the Paladin Capital Group, which has invested in such startups as the thin-film solar company Heliovolt, as well as at the Global Environment Fund, which invests in smart-grid, electric-vehicle, manufacturing-efficiency and solar-design and construction firms.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has a more hazy environmental record but he enjoys broad support from investors who see him as one of their own. In 1984, Romney founded the investment firm Bain Capital, with a venture arm that funds numerous Internet, software, wireless, biotech and semiconductor companies.

"More than the other candidates, he understands the role venture capitalists play in the creation of jobs, in helping build the economy, so I think that as a candidate he has the best understanding of the impact the cleantech revolution can have," said @Ventures principal Matt Horton.

Khosla Ventures founder Vinod Khosla, on the other hand, appears to have had a tough time making up his mind. The prominent cleantech investor has contributed to the campaigns of Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who dropped out of the race earlier this month.

Herein, a greentech guide to some of candidates (click on the names below). We've also rounded up donations from some cleantech investors. And, just for kicks, we're including the cars each candidate drives (as reported recently in the San Francisco Chronicle), and each candidate's environmental score from the League of Conservation Voters.


The Greentech Voter Guide: Hillary Clinton

Framed as an engine of economic stimulus, Clinton has been a recent champion of a nationally funded "green-collar" job program that would train tens of thousands of workers a year in the design, manufacturing, installation and maintenance of renewable-energy and energy-efficiency technologies. She says her energy plan would create 5 million new jobs.

She proposes a requirement that oil companies invest in renewable energies, or pay a fee that would go toward the creation of a $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund. It's modeled after DARPA, the Cold War-era program that encouraged academics and entrepreneurs to tackle new technologies that could help give the United States a military advantage (and that, eventually, led to the creation of the Internet). That fund would pay for:

  • tax incentives for home and businesses that become more energy efficient.
  • tax credits for gas stations that provide ethanol pumps.
  • loan guarantees to help commercialize cellulosic biofuels.
  • other incentives for new technologies, including research in "clean coal."

Cleantech donors:

  • Vinod Khosla, Khosla Ventures: $2,300
  • Mark Maloney, Paladin Capital Group: $4,600
  • Michael Steed, Paladin Capital Group: $4,600
  • Leonard Jeffrey, Global Environment Fund: $4,600
  • Richard Kauffman, Good Energies: $4,600

Car: Mercury Mariner Hybrid - 25 mpg

League of Conservation Voters score: 90/100


The Greentech Voter Guide: Barack Obama

Obama took some ribbing early on by not only voting for but helping to introduce bills that included extensive subsidies for the coal industry (big in his home state) through support of controversial coal-to-liquid technology.

But, for some, he redeemed himself by later deciding only to support coal-to-liquid if it could emit 20 percent less carbon than conventional gasoline.

Obama is particularly keen on a $150 billion 10-year fund that would help commercialize biofuels, plug-in hybrids, low-emission coal plants and a digital electrical grid. Like Clinton, he supports a "green jobs" program, funded from the cap-and-trade auction, and wants the government to help develop manufacturing centers.

On top of that, he has proposed a $10 billion-per-year government venture-capital fund that would work with existing venture-capital groups to help new technologies "move beyond the lab."

He also wants to create a "low-carbon fuel standard" to help spur the development of biofuels.

Cleantech donors:

  • Vinod Khosla, Khosla Ventures, $2,300
  • Mark Donohue, Expansion Capital Partners: $460
  • Joseph Lipscomb: Global Environment Fund: $2,300


  • Chrysler 300C: 18 mpg
  • Ford Escape SUV: 27 mpg

League of Conservation Voters score: 96/100


The Greentech Voter Guide: Mitt Romney

Romney has said that while climate change is occurring, he isn't sure humans are the cause. Instead, his energy policy is framed around what will make the United States less dependent on foreign oil.

In that vein, Romney supports coal-to-liquid and coal-gasification technologies, alongside subsidies and research money for ethanol, biofuels, nuclear energy and oil drilling off the coast of the United States and in Alaska.

Romney also emphasizes energy efficiency and conservation. He supports research into hybrids, fuel cells and battery-powered cars and believes automakers should raise their fuel standards -- but voluntarily. He opposes recent federal regulations that raise fuel standards to 35 mpg by 2020, as well as any cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions that isn't simultaneously enacted globally.


  • Jennifer Fonstad, Draper Fisher Jurvetson: $1,150
  • Ken Lawler, Battery Ventures: $2,100
  • William James, Rockport Capital Partners: $2,100
  • Fred Kittler: Firelake Capital Management Fund: $2,300

Car: 2005 Ford Mustang - 20mpg

League of Conservation Voters score: No voting record. Scores limited to members of Congress.


The Greentech Voter Guide: John McCain

McCain has said that curbing global warming will be a central issue of his presidency, and he is the most direct among Republicans in tying climate change to greenhouse-gas emissions.

He co-sponsored an early climate-change bill that included the first mandatory greenhouse-gas reductions. Now, however, that bill is more modest than others floating around Congress. A big chunk of the money raised in a carbon auction would go toward nuclear power.

He wants the federal government to pay for a national challenge to come up with more advanced car batteries, and wants to use his office to promote partnerships between utilities and automakers to accelerate the deployment of plug-in hybrid cars.

McCain, famously suspicious of ethanol as an alternative energy source, changed that position as he was campaigning in Iowa this year. He says that sugar cane, switchgrass and corn-based ethanol may be necessary alternatives to oil now that gas prices have risen so high, and that ethanol can help cut down on greenhouse-gas emissions.

However, McCain opposes government subsidies for ethanol, solar, wind and what he considers other "mature" industries, but says he would support government-funded research in coal gasification and some hydrogen-related technologies.

Cleantech donors: Vinod Khosla, Khosla Ventures: $2,300

Car: Cadillac CTS - 20mpg

League of Conservation Voters score: 26/100


The Greentech Voter Guide: Mike Huckabee

Huckabee loves to announce that America can achieve energy independence by his second term in office, and has said that handing Congress his energy plan is the first thing he would do as president.

Huckabee has offered few specifics, but says roughly that he wants the country to pursue nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, clean-coal, biodiesel and biomass energy, as well as drilling in ANWR until the country can wean itself off oil.

"Some will come from our farms and some will come from our laboratories," Huckabee says in a statement on his Web site.

Huckabee wants to remove "red tape" that slows innovation, and wants the federal government to support research and development, with funds matched by the private sector.

"Our free market will sort out what makes the most sense economically and will reward consumer preferences," he says.

In October, Huckabee surprised a lot of people by coming out definitively in favor of a mandatory carbon cap-and-trade program to address climate change.

Cleantech donors: None identified


  • 2007 Chevy Tahoe flex-fuel truck - 16 mpg
  • 1995 Chevy Silverado truck - 12 mpg

League of Conservation Voters score: No voting record. Scores limited to members of Congress.