EXCLUSIVE: Eco-Billionaire Gave $500K To Oakland Mayor’s Pet Project Shortly Before Climate Lawsuit
(This story has been corrected from its original version. The correction clarifies the 10th paragraph to explain that Steyer’s donation was to a ballot initiative committee headed by the candidate, not to the candidate himself. The Daily Caller News Foundation apologizes for the error.)
An anti-oil California billionaire poured half a million dollars into one of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s favorite educational programs shortly before the city announced lawsuits against energy companies, according to documents The Daily Caller News Foundation obtained.
Tom Steyer provided Schaaf with a $500,000 donation to Oakland Promise Generation Fund and Children’s Initiative, a project the mayor uses to provide financial assistance to low-income students. TheDCNF’s documents also appear to show Steyer and Schaaf meeting less than a year later to discuss a “time sensitive” issue that coincided with the mayor’s decision to sue energy companies.
The Beneficial State Bank, a California bank Steyer founded to fund local businesses with limited access to financial loans, holds all the money for the program, including the sizeable donation that Steyer and his wife Kat Taylor gave to Schaaf’s project. The documents show officials in the mayor’s office organizing the nuts and bolts undergirding the monetary gift.
“She (Oakland Promise’s communication’s manager) will be able to help you … acknowledge Tom and Kat’s recent and generous $500K contribution to the OP scholarships and college savings programs,” Amanda Feinstein, a scheduler in Schaaf’s office, wrote in a Nov. 3, 2016 email to Erin Eisenberg, the director of philanthropy for the TomKat Foundation.
Schaaf reached out to Steyer’s people several months later for additional donations. They mayor wrote to Taylor last August to thank her for going to city hall on Aug. 28 to discuss the previous donations to Oakland Promise. She went on to suggest meeting in the future for additional funding.
“Please let us know when you have gotten a chance to talk with Tom and if there is anything we can provide to support your consideration,” Schaaf wrote in an Aug. 31 email to Taylor, who provided a go-between for Steyer and the mayor. Daniela Castro, a scheduler with Fahr, a group the Democratic moneyman founded to coordinate his philanthropic efforts, responded less than a week later with an email noting the importance of meeting Schaaf.
“Kaylee – pls schedule Kat to meet with Andrea tomorrow at SeaCliff instead as it is time sensitive,” Castro wrote in a Sept. 7 email to Schaaf’s executive scheduler, Lauren Blanchard – the email was an attempt to arrange a meeting between Taylor and the mayor’s office at City Hall. He provided the mayor with Kat’s phone number on Sept. 15, and Schaaf announced five days later that the city would sue ExxonMobil, Chevron and others for their supposed role in contributing to global warming.
Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Imperial Beach are also plaintiffs with Schaaf, as are Santa Cruz County, San Mateo County, and Marin County. They are among a slew of local areas suing to hold Exxon and other energy companies’ responsible what plaintiffs believe are costs associated with global warming.
A report from the Daily Mail last December also showed a close linkage between these lawsuits and Steyer. Two officials inside his nonprofit group, NextGen, were briefed in 2015 on the strategy behind a legal crusade against various oil producers, the Daily Mail report noted at the times. He has repeatedly denied any involvement in campaigns to sue companies like Exxon.
But documents and emails have continued to leak out suggesting otherwise. Oakland, San Francisco and New York City began pursuing lawsuits against major oil companies in early 2016 to flesh out the degree to which they were contributing to greenhouse gas levels. San Francisco announced it would sue companies like BP, Chevron, Exxon and others, shortly after Steyer provided a $30,000 donation to a ballot initiative headed by the mayor.
Neither Steyer nor Schaaf’s office responded to requests for comment from TheDCNF about the nature of the communications and whether they played a role in the mayor’s decision to join the climate change lawsuits. Steyer was linked to a climate lawsuit in 2016 with similar characteristics as the one the Oakland mayor sought.
Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman tried to finagle meetings and phone communications with Steyer four months after the Empire State lawman announced in 2016 his lawsuit against Exxon, according to emails the New York Post obtained at the time. The email was addressed to the director of strategic planning Fahr, the same group arranged Steyer to meet with Schaaf.
One of Schneiderman’s aides tried to arrange a phone meeting between the AG and Steyer, and referenced the lawman’s need for support for a gubernatorial race in the context of his investigation of ExxonMobil. “Eric Schneiderman would like to have a call with Tom regarding support for his race for governor … regarding Exxon case,” reads the March 10 e-mail, which Steyer received.
Schneiderman subsequently used a legal maneuver to prevent groups from obtaining more emails related to his probes. He is refusing to produce emails between his office and wealthy Democratic donors — including Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller Family Fund and Steyer. Exxon claims he is trying to protect the groups that are backing the campaign.
Steyer has wriggled his way into various Democratic campaigns in the past. His money heavily influenced the Democratic National Committee’s 2016 campaign platform on global warming and green energy, according to hacked Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails uncovered shortly after the election by the conservative legal group Energy and Environment Legal Institute.
The party platform changed dramatically to mirror the wealthy philanthropist’s mission, in that it now asks the U.S. to generate at least half of its energy from non-carbon-emitting sources such as solar and wind by 2030.
Steyer’s NextGen Climate published a report in 2016 titled, “Fact Sheet: Powering America With More Than 50 Percent Clean Energy by 2030,” which the DNC used as a template for its environmental platform. His money accounted for nearly 100 percent of the group’s entire political war chest, a number totaling more than $7 million – Steyer reformatted NextGen Climate shortly after the election to tackle a wider-range of liberal positions.
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