Liberal billionaire Tom Steyer has recently announced he was going to spend $100 million this election to make global warming a front-burner issue. But he won’t be taking on incumbent Democrats who support oil and natural gas development.
Steyer, who made his name spending millions opposing the Keystone XL pipeline and backing climate causes, made it clear that his green group NextGen Climate Action will not be challenging Democrats who support the pipeline.
“Are we going to spend the time and resources to take out an incumbent Democrat just because they’re not good on climate? No,” Chris Lehane, an adviser to Steyer, told reporters on a conference call.
Lehane made clear that Steyer would not be “tea partying” any Democratic candidates this election as having a Democratic-controlled Senate is more important than punishing liberal lawmakers for supporting Keystone.
“We’re certainly not subscribing to what I would call the tea party theory of politics,” Lehane said. “The tea party has spent a considerable amount of time involving themselves in races where they effectively go out and take out a candidate.”
“We do think it’s really, really, really important from a climate perspective that we maintain control of the Senate for Democrats,” Lehane added.
Steyer, a former hedge fund manager turned environmental activist, made his name last year spending millions opposing the Keystone XL pipeline and supporting left-wing political candidates. He was also a bundler for the Obama campaign and has even hosted fundraisers at his home in San Francisco.
He recently pledged to raise $50 million from wealthy like-minded donors along with $50 million of his own money in the 2014 election cycle. It was previously thought that he would use some of that money to target Democrats up for re-election that support Keystone XL and oppose Obama’s climate agenda.
His group NextGen Climate Action allowed supporters to vote on which candidate they would target in the upcoming elections. One such target was Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who supports the Keystone pipeline as well as the oil and gas industry.
Landrieu told the press that such an ad campaign would probably help her in a right-leaning oil and gas state.
“It would probably help me in my state if he would run his ads,” Landrieu told the National Journal.
Despite Steyer’s unwillingness to attack Democrats, environmentalists have nonetheless welcomed his political spending.
“The bottom line is that we need much more environmentalist money in politics,” said League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski. “Our side will never outspend the big polluters in the fossil fuel industry, but we need to make sure our message is heard, and Tom’s increased investments will help make sure that happens.”
Liberals have long lamented the political spending of the Koch brothers, Charles and David. The Kochs’ help fund conservative and libertarian groups throughout the country, and environmentalists see Steyer’s money as a counterweight to that.
Steyer himself has built up a coalition of environmental groups to push the global warming agenda this fall. The network includes his super PAC NextGen Climate Action, the Advanced Energy Economy which Stayer co-founded, and Next Generation which is a think tank Steyer co-founded with his brother and former Kaiser Family Foundation executive Matt James.
That’s not all Steyer has to work with. He sits on the board of One PacificCoast Bank, a community development bank headed by his wife. Steyer also co-chairs the Risky Business campaign which quantifies the economic costs of global warming. He co-chairs the campaign along with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former George W. Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson.
“We’re the last people to say that [Steyer] doesn’t have the right to do any of this,” Thomas Pyle, president Institute for Energy Research, told Politico Pro. “But it is not unnoticed that there’s a lot of hypocrisy in the Democratic ranks about this notion that people are trying to buy the process.”
“In his desire to create a pool of investors in his issues, he’s going after folks who are seeking to profit handsomely off the destruction of these energy jobs in the coal, natural gas and oil sectors,” Pyle added.
Steyer himself was accused of hypocrisy last year by Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter after The Daily Caller News Foundation reported that the liberal billionaire held investments in his old hedge fund, Farallon Capital, which had holdings in a company building a rival pipeline to Keystone XL — Kinder Morgan.
“I think it’s hypocrisy, quite frankly,” Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter told Fox News. “Who knows when he’s going to divest of these investments … maybe in a few months when his helping kill Keystone will boost them up to top value. … Who knows?”
Steyer told Vitter in a letter that he would donate any profits from his investments in Kinder Morgan to the victims of wildfires. Such investments are expected to generate between $1 million and $2 million in profits. Steyer said he would divest of Kinder Morgan, but it’s unknown if has followed through on that commitment.
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