When Susan Rice was under consideration for secretary of state in 2012, she was attacked by environmentalists for holding stock in the controversial Keystone Pipeline XL deal.
Now, with the multimillionaire Rice in contention to be Joe Biden’s running mate, that investment is again drawing fire from progressives. They say her extensive past holdings in an array of industries at odds with liberal causes — particularly the Keystone investment — could make her ill-suited to be vice president in a Democratic administration.
“It raises my eyebrows to think the potential vice president of the United States would have financial ties, whether present or historical, that are exactly opposed 180 degrees to the president,” said Julian NoiseCat, a vice president for the advocacy group Data for Progress who formerly worked for the environmentalist group 350.org. He noted that Biden opposes the Keystone project and is campaigning on a $1.7 trillion climate-change plan.
“It makes them look like hypocrites,” NoiseCat said, echoing other activists.
If elected vice president, Rice would be the first Black woman ever to hold the office and the first in modern times to have never run for elected office before. Because she’s never been put through the crucible of a campaign as a candidate, Rice hasn’t had to publicly disclose her policy views, at least on domestic issues, over the years. But she was required to reveal her financial portfolio for the years in appointed office in the Obama administration.
Rice later lamented that her Keystone investment became a problem during her unsuccessful bid for secretary of state in 2012.
At the time, Rice’s financial disclosures showed that she and her husband — scion of a wealthy Canadian family — owned as much as $600,000 worth of stock in TransCanada, the company that owned Keystone. She held stock in TransCanada and other fossil fuel companies for the entire eight years she served in the Obama Administration.
“The financial disclosure reports reflect at worst a conflict of interest, and at best, an indifference to a perception of a conflict of interest,” said Yasmine Taeb, senior policy counsel at Demand Progress. “It's troubling to see that Susan Rice has invested in so many companies that fuel climate change and in entities at odds with Democratic values."
A survey conducted for the progressive think tank Data for Progress concerning Biden’s appointments showed “voters don’t want folks who have strong financial ties and backgrounds in corporate business running their government,” NoiseCat said.
A Rice spokeswoman would not comment on whether she still holds stock in the company that owns Keystone.
Progressive activists have started circulating dossiers among themselves that raise concerns about Rice’s holdings and foreign policy record. Left-wing Democrats — many of whom favor Rep. Karen Bass for VP — also said in interviews this week that they worried about the toll of recent critical stories examining the California congresswoman’s statements and record and complained that Rice had yet to face similar scrutiny.
Rice’s first financial disclosure as an Obama White House official, filed in 2008, formed a parade of horribles for progressives. Her investments ranged from fossil fuels and large financial institutions to pharmaceuticals and holdings in Las Vegas casinos owned by the Republican megadonors Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn.
Rice had so many investments that a full analysis of her assets was only publicly released once, in 2009, by the Center for Responsive Politics. It estimated she was worth between $23.5 million and $43.5 million.
The TransCanada investment stands out from the others owing to the project’s political significance.
Despite the controversy surrounding the TransCanada investment in 2012, Rice clung to the stock and listed as much as $100,000 of it in her last public financial disclosure as she exited the White House in 2017 as national security advisor. She was appointed to that post after John Kerry beat her out as secretary of state in the aftermath of her handling of the attacks on the lethal attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Though Benghazi was more of a political liability for Rice than TransCanada at the time, her entire stock portfolio was part of an internal whisper campaign to undermine her chances, according to a Democratic official who recalled the behind-the-scenes jockeying.
A Rice spokeswoman would not discuss her investments or whether Rice shared her latest holdings with the Biden campaign.
“We are not going to comment on the vetting process,” the spokeswoman said, adding that the former ambassador filed financial disclosures as required throughout her tenure in the Obama administration. “Ambassador Rice is still a private citizen and will disclose her holdings if and when required by law and a return to service.”
A Washington-raised Rhodes Scholar, Rice earlier in her career worked as a consultant for McKinsey & Co. and served in the Clinton Administration as well.
In her 2019 book, “Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For,” Rice wrote about how she pushed back on negative media coverage of her TransCanada investments during her consideration for secretary of state. In a chapter titled “Benghazi,” Rice noted that her detractors argued at the time that the financial holdings she shared with her husband, including in the Canadian oil pipeline company, should disqualify her from seeking the top diplomatic post, since it fell to the State Department to advise President Obama on whether to approve the pipeline.
Rice dismissed the criticism.
“This was a particular red herring,” Rice wrote, “as all I would have needed to do was recuse myself, which I did as national security advisor.”
Critics of Rice’s finances said they didn’t forget.
Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb, founder and president of the anti-pipeline group Bold Nebraska, said the project remains a driving issue in her state because it pits “the working-class people rising up against big corporations and the people helping those big corporations.”
“If you’re a Democratic Party leader and you’re still invested in oil and gas it’s just a problem,” Kleeb said. “We know so much more about the impact of climate change on our land and our water. It’s just not acceptable anymore. We don’t look the other way anymore … We can’t sweep it under the rug.”
Evan Weber, a cofounder and political director of the Sunrise Movement group, which is advocating for the Green New Deal, said that “Rice’s investments were certainly concerning at the time, not just in Keystone XL, but in oil and gas companies and projects across the board."
He added, "We would hope that by now, she would join the tens of thousands of individuals, and over 1,200 institutions who have divested from the fossil fuel industry to the tune of nearly $15 trillion.”
Activism around climate change has grown considerably since Obama first took office. Leading environmental organizations at nearly every level of government have developed pledges they urge politicians to sign promising that they won’t accept more than $200 from oil, gas, and coal industry executives, lobbyists, and PACs. The candidates must instead agree to prioritize the health of people and the climate over corporate profits.
Janet Redman, climate campaign director at Greenpeace, said the organization would seek swift assurances from Rice if she’s Biden’s VP pick.
“It’s really incumbent on her," Redman said, "to reassure the electorate that she is no longer benefiting from companies that are hell-bent on destroying the planet.”