A billionaire hedge fund maestro on a mission to combat climate change is looking to up the ante. Tom Steyer, a 56-year old Democrat who accumulated more than $1.5 billion as founder of Farallon Capital Management, is galvanizing donors to raise as much as $100 million. His mission is to enact climate change measures through a campaign of attack ads aimed mostly at Republican lawmakers.
Steyer is seeking to raise $50 million from donors that he will match with his own $50 million to make his PAC NextGen Climate Action one of the largest in the country. The billionaire came into prominence last year when he infused $11 million into Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s campaign against former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and bolstered a Democratic congressional primary in Massachusetts with millions.
In February Steyer rounded up the troops of the country’s leading liberal donors and hosted a climate change and environmental mastermind session at his 1,800-acre ranch in Pescadero, CA, which raises prime grass-fed beef. The money raised will be allocated to target key 2014 governor and senate races. Many of the deep-pocket donors hail from Silicon Valley, where climate change is ranked as the most important political issue. This round of fundraising appears to be focused more on specific political elections and less on philanthropy and education, toward which donations used to gravitate.
One particular target is first-term Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who ruffled Steyer’s feathers when he stated that he does not believe that science has established that climate change is man-made. Moreover, NextGen is targeting five congressional mid-term races and opposing four republicans, including Senator Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) of Florida. However, the fifth is Democratic incumbent Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana because she maintains close ties to the oil and gas industries and is a supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline. Steyer is an outspoken activist against the pipeline and has made a series of short documentaries arguing that it would wreak havoc on the environment.
However, the single-issued Super PAC is still drawing criticism from some non-profit groups that discourage big money in American politics. “A small number of the richest individuals in America are attempting to use their enormous wealth to purchase government decisions to advance their own personal interests,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. “This is about as far away as we can get from ‘representative government.'”
It appears that money not only talks but walks; President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have both stepped up the rhetoric on climate change as of late. Perhaps the $100 million soon to be available to underwrite key mid-term campaigns may be the underlying impetus to their recent homage to climate change and to Mr. Steyer.