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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

NextGen Climate Action

playersguide2014_135pxPolitical leanings: Democratic/liberal

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 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.” In May, he confirmed that his group’s goal is indeed $100 million and announced that the group would target races in seven states. His NextGen Climate Action group states that its mission is “to avert climate disaster and preserve American prosperity.”

NextGen reported spending $57 million as of Oct. 25, 2014.

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. As of Oct. 25, Steyer had personally contributed $66.9 million over two years to the super PAC in the 2014 cycle, and an unknown amount to the 501(c)(4), which is not required to disclose its donors.

In all, Steyer and his wife, Kathryn, had contributed nearly $74 million this campaign cycle, based on data released by the FEC on Oct. 25 and the IRS on Aug. 4, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That puts them atop the Center for Responsive Politics’ list of individual political donors for the 2014 campaign cycle.

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, a sister group funded by Steyer, the CE Action Committee, 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 in February, 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. The organization announced in May that it would focus on races in seven states: Senate races in Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado and Michigan, and governors’ races in Pennsylvania, Florida and Maine. None of the targeted candidates is a Democrat.

The Senate candidates are Cory Gardner of Colorado, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Scott Brown of New Hampshire and Terri Lynn Land of Michigan. The gubernatorial targets are all incumbents: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Maine Gov. Paul LePage. The super PAC had spent more than $9 million attacking their targeted GOP Senate candidates.

In addition to the money spent on independent expenditures, this figure also includes contributions to other Democratic-leaning outside spending groups, including $5.5 million to the Senate Majority PAC; $200,000 to American Bridge 21st Century; and $150,000 to the League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund.

Update, Nov. 5: NextGen-backed candidates won three of the seven races, winning in New Hampshire, Michigan and Pennsylvania and losing in Colorado, Iowa, Florida and Maine.

Fact-checking NextGen Climate Action:

Stretching Cuccinelli’s Record, Sept. 19, 2013

The Messy Facts in Virginia, Aug. 23, 2013

Florida Surrogates Go Nuclear, Aug. 18, 2013

Florida Fracking Fracas, Aug. 14, 2014