Tom Steyer, Climate Activist, to Inject $100 Million into 2014 Campaigns

20 Feb 2014

Tom Steyer, best known to readers of COG as the principal financial supporter of California’s 2012 Proposition 39, is planning to inject $100 million into the 2014 election cycle, reported the New York Times.

Starting with $50 million of his own money, he is hitting up other donors for another $50 million, which he plans to run through his political action committee (super PAC) Next Generation.org.

Steyer is often referred to as a “Democratic donor,” because he does in fact support Democrats. But in reality he is what is known as a “single-issue giver” as he is focused on a certain issue.  Actually he has two issue areas that his super PAC supports.

From the Next Generation website: “Next Generation promotes solutions to two of the biggest challenges confronting the next generation of Americans: The risk of dangerous climate change, and the threat of diminished prospects for children and families. Through the use of non-partisan research, policy development, and strategic communications, we identify strategies that help deploy clean, advanced energy technologies; we also work to ensure a level playing field from which today’s kids can build a brighter future.

“Next Generation takes lessons learned from California, America’s largest, most populous state, and helps spread innovative ideas that can be enacted through public policy, private enterprise, families, and individuals.”

Steyer retired in 2012 from Farallon Capital Management LLC, a hedge fund he founded, which reportedly left him with about $1.5 billion.  He joined Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg and others in the “Giving Pledge,” promising to donate half or more of their wealth during their lifetimes to charitable and nonprofit activities.

So Energy & Climate, and Children & Families are his focus, but we’ll focus on the Energy & Climate part. As to his Democratic partisanship, Politico reports that while Steyer supported Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, (Democrats) his group is also willing to go after Democrats who support the Keystone pipeline project, such as Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, who last week took over as Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Generally his strategy will be to focus on states where a candidate who supports acting on climate change faces an opponent who is a “denier.” Steyer also plans to participate in the 2016 Presidential election.  He has said that for the 2014 elections he plans to try to influence the debate about climate in Senate races in Iowa and New Hampshire and the gubernatorial race in Florida.

With that much money involved, Steyer and his super PAC emerge on the political scene as a counterweight to the powerful network run by Charles and David Koch. Often referred to as “Republican donors,” the Koch brothers really are more like “single-issue donors” in that they also are not so much partisan as they are businessmen.  Republican candidates they support favor fewer regulations on businesses and more fracking and right-to-work laws, for example.  To them, political giving is an investment as electing the right candidate can mean a financial windfall to their vast fossil fuel holdings.  Social issues such as abortion or gay marriage are on the agendas of hardline conservative groups who are beneficiaries of the Koch brothers’ money, but the brothers themselves are more libertarian and less concerned with social conservatism than fiscal and regulatory policy.

The New Yorker magazine did a piece in 2010, called “Covert Operations,” that gives an in-depth study of the Koch brothers’ political history and methods of operation.  Citing reports from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute and Greenpeace, they say that “the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups.” Quoting Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, “‘The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.’”

There are others of course – New York billionaire “Republican donor” Paul Singer (who, however, supports same-sex marriage and immigration reform), or “Democratic donor” George Soros (net worth of $23 billion, has given away $8 billion to liberal causes).

With the Koch brothers having decades of head start it isn’t clear that Steyer and his super PAC will be any match for them. It’s also not clear that $100 million is much money compared to the Kochs’ $35 billion fortune, less than only  that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in this country, and how much of it they’re willing to part with in support of their principles.

But to have someone who is willing to fight the good fight against the incumbent industry and promote clean energy, and who has $100 million he can spare, may finally begin to provide some consequences to the climate denier agenda, and can only be a good thing for the clean energy industry.

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