05/20/2010 02:12 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

It's About Standing Up to Special Interests

The results of this week's Senate primary elections are striking, particularly in Arkansas and Pennsylvania where one incumbent was held to under 50% and forced into a runoff election and another incumbent was soundly defeated.

Chuck Todd and his colleague's at NBC's FirstRead summed it up like this: "If you go back to Scott Brown's victory in January - or even Obama's in 2008 - voters still seem to be sending the message that they want change. This has been a frustrated and angry electorate since 2006, and that's why we're seeing this anger at Washington, on both sides."

But perhaps that anger is not just about incumbents. Perhaps it is about those incumbents who are too close to powerful special interests, be it the big banks or Big Oil.

Seen through that lens, the voter anger we saw yesterday makes even more sense.

In Arkansas, Sen. Lincoln, who LCV came out against early when we named her to the "Dirty Dozen" in January, has received more than $1 million in campaign cash from Big Oil and energy interests. Worse, in the past decade, she has been among the top three recipients of BP PAC money in the Senate, having received $12,000 from the oil company's political action committee since the 2001-02 election cycle. Should we be surprised that voters are unhappy with a politician who sides with corporate polluters over public health by opposing efforts to curb harmful carbon pollution, as Sen. Lincoln has done?

In Pennsylvania, much has already been made of the fact that Sen. Specter switched parties, after having been a Republican for more than 40 years. But put partisanship aside. While we applauded Sen. Specter when he supported strong climate legislation in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last year, his LCV lifetime score is just 45% - a fact that Rep. Joe Sestak contrasted with his own lifetime score of 96% in one of his closing TV ads. Again, it's clear that voters want their elected officials to consistently stand up and fight for policies that benefit the public good, such as clean air, safe water and renewable energy.

By comparison, consider Rep. Tom Perriello, who voted for the landmark clean energy and climate bill last year in the U.S. House. Rep. Perriello has championed standing up to powerful special interests and fighting for working families, regularly touting that his Southside Virginia congressional district is well positioned to become a leader in the new clean energy economy. And how are voters responding? A recent poll shows the first-term Democratic congressman is tied or ahead of the leading Republican candidates - which is significant given that John McCain won the district in 2008 and Bob McDonnell overwhelmingly carried it in 2009.

The frustration we're seeing is real. Americans are feeling left behind. Yet there is no doubt that incumbents and candidates from both parties would be wise to understand that voters are looking for them to put the public interests ahead of the special interests and to support clean energy policies over bailouts for Big Oil.

To make a contribution to pro-environment candidates running for Congress, visit LCV Action Fund's GiveGreen, the only website devoted exclusively to raising money for environmental champions and candidates.