Spending target: $100 million
San Francisco billionaire and climate-change activist Tom Steyer spent millions in three high-profile 2013 elections, and his NextGen Climate Action group was reportedly ready to spend as much as $100 million or more in 2014. It is a fierce opponent of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project.
Steyer has not confirmed a spending goal. But he said in a Feb. 17 New York Times interview that $100 million would be a “really cheap price” to pay to influence policy toward what he called the “generational challenge of the world.” His NextGen Climate Action group states that its mission is to “to avert climate disaster and preserve American prosperity.”
In 2012 Steyer, who is reported to be worth $1.5 billion, sold the San Francisco-based hedge fund he had founded in 1986 and turned to philanthropy and political action. NextGen Climate Action says it was incorporated in early 2013 as a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization. A NextGen Climate Action Committee also registered July 22, 2013 with the Federal Election Commission as a super PAC, making only independent expenditures. Steyer personally contributed $9.3 million to the super PAC in 2013, and an unknown amount to the 501(c)(4), which is not required to disclose its donors.
Steyer poured an astonishing $8 million into the 2013 contest for governor of Virginia. Among other things, NextGen Climate Action Committee paid for a TV ad attacking Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli as a “climate change denier” who (as state attorney general) had engaged in a taxpayer-funded “witch hunt” against a University of Virginia professor whose research on climate change he opposed. On its website, the group claims credit for helping defeat Cuccinelli through a “a massive integrated effort” that also including door-to-door canvasing and targeted online ads.
Also in 2013, the group spent about $1 million supporting Democratic Rep. Ed Markey and attacking his primary and general election opponents in a special race to fill the Senate seat formerly held by Secretary of State John Kerry. In 2009, Markey co-authored an ambitious cap-and-trade bill to address climate change. It passed the House (then under Democratic control) only to die later in the Senate. Markey won the special election.
Steyer’s group was less successful in a pivotal special election to fill a Washington state Senate seat. According to local news reports, Steyer spent more than $500,000 attacking Republican state Rep. Jan Angel in her successful bid to unseat the incumbent Democrat, state Sen. Nathan Schlicher, who had been appointed to fill a vacancy. It was the most expensive state Senate race in state history. Steyer’s money helped fund TV ads attacking Angel for legislation to “reduce access to mammograms” and “eliminate funding for cancer screenings.” But she won anyway, and her victory padded the margin of the ruling majority coalition to 26-23. The coalition is made up of Republicans, plus two Democrats who caucus with the GOP.
According to the New York Times story, the group intends to use “a hard-edge campaign of attack ads against governors and lawmakers” in 2014, trying to pressure them to enact measures to address climate change. As of late February, the organization had not announced exactly whom it would support or oppose. But the group’s website listed five candidates or members of Congress as potential targets for ads featuring the pipeline issue.
The potential targets include only one Democrat, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who supports the Keystone XL pipeline. She’s been quoted as saying attacks from Steyer’s group would help her, since her state depends so heavily on oil production and refining.
The four Republicans listed as possible targets include Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who is not up for reelection until 2016 but will decide in late 2014 whether to run for president. The other GOP potential targets are Reps. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Paul Broun of Georgia, and Senate candidate Mike Rounds of South Dakota.
Fact-checking NextGen Climate Action:
Stretching Cuccinelli’s Record, Sept. 19, 2013
The Messy Facts in Virginia, Aug. 23, 2013