Politics & Government

Obama talks energy with conservative billionaire

Democrat Barack Obama met Sunday with Texas oil baron and longtime conservative activist T. Boone Pickens to discuss strategies for developing alternative energy.

The presidential hopeful praised Pickens as a “legendary entrepreneur” and deflected a question about the billionaire's role in helping to fund a television ad campaign that undermined John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee.

“You know, he's got a longer track record than that,” Obama told reporters when asked about Pickens' association with the ads by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. “One of the things I think we have to unify the country around is having an intelligent energy policy. … That's what we're going to be talking about.”

During the 2004 presidential campaign, Pickens spent $3 million to help bankroll the Swift Boat organization, a group tied to supporters of President Bush that ran television ads questioning Kerry's record as a swift boat commander during the Vietnam War. The ads were believed to have damaged Kerry in several battleground states, contributing to his narrow loss to Bush.

Today, Pickens is bankrolling a much different kind of campaign. A critic of U.S. dependence on oil and a champion of wind power and other alternative energy forms, he has vowed to spend $58 million to promote his “Pickens Plan,” which calls for the U.S. to generate 22 percent of its electricity through wind and other sources.

The high cost of energy has emerged as a central campaign issue between Obama and Republican rival John McCain. Pickens met with McCain in Colorado last week to discuss his plan and requested a similar meeting with Obama. The two men talked privately for about 45 minutes, campaign officials said Sunday.