Spreading the green to fight climate change opponents

Liberal angst greeted Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened up massive outside spending in federal, state and local politics. As big money becomes more deeply entrenched in politics, though, activists and fundraisers on the left are tempering their concerns and embracing the rise of the super PAC. The latest convert is Tom Steyer, a billionaire investor and climate change activist who expresses some qualms about the impact of big money on democracy, but who is promising to spend $100 million on pro-environment attack ads during the 2014 election cycle.

Steyer launches his midterm PAC strategy in Tuesday’s New York Times. He plans to spend $50 million of his own money pressing governors and congressional candidates on environmental issues, and hopes to match his own contributions with $50 million he will raise from other wealthy activists. He’s initially targeting Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and a Senate race in Iowa. Steyer hopes to spend in races where he can both move the needle on his climate change agenda in the short term, and set up favorable conditions for a strong environmental policy role in the 2016 presidential contest. “Our feeling on 2014 is, we want to do things that are both substantively important and will have legs after that,” Steyer tells the Times. “We don’t want to go someplace, win and move on.”

Steyer spent millions in support of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s campaign in 2013, teeing up a pro-green jobs pitch to counteract pro-coal activism among Virginia Republican activists. He’s best known in Massachusetts for inserting himself into last year’s Democratic Senate primary, and attacking US Rep. Stephen Lynch over the Keystone XL pipeline. Steyer spent roughly $553,000 opposing Lynch, and then spent another $453,000 opposing Gabriel Gomez, the Republican who lost the Senate contest to Ed Markey.

The vast majority of Steyer’s 2013 spending in Massachusetts was spent on political attacks. The Times paints Steyer’s 2014 activism as “a hard-edge campaign of attack ads against governors and lawmakers.”

Steyer is part of a new wave of wealthy Democratic activists who are learning to embrace the post-Citizens United era. The political landscape is now dominated by a handful of wealthy activists who have the ability to contribute, and spend, unlimited amounts of outside money to influence political contests.

The early faces of the super PACs that Citizens United unleashed were conservativesKarl Rove, the Koch brothers, and Sheldon Adelsonchief among them. Recently, though, liberal groups and activists, including those who have publicly opposed Citizens United-style politics, have embraced outside super PACs. Labor groups spent heavily this past fall on legislative races in New Jersey. Unions also spent heavily on mayoral races in Boston, Los Angeles and New York last year. Teachers unions outspent Charlie Baker in the final weeks of the 2010 gubernatorial race in Massachusetts.

For his part, Steyer has already poured $9.3 million into NextGen Climate Action Committee, the super PAC he runs in San Francisco. He’s promising to spend tens of millions more. “We have a democratic system, there are parts we would want to reform or change, and Citizens United is prominent in that,” he tells the Times today. “But we’ve accepted the world as it is.”

–PAUL MCMORROW  

BEACON HILL

The MetroWest Daily News calls for former speaker Sal DiMasi to be transferred to a federal medical prison facility in Devens.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Eagle-Tribune identifies a key benefactor of Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera as William Perocchi, who grew up in Lawrence and now runs Pebble Beach Resorts in California. Perocchi donated a total of $31,000 to help Rivera with his election recount effort and his inaugural gala.

A veteran Boston drug cop kept his superiors in the dark about his plans to run security for a Roxbury medical marijuana dispensary.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

One year into the family business, US Rep. Joe Kennedy is taking a steady, go-slow approach to life in Congress — probably a good thing since nothing is getting done there.

States wrestle with regulating — and detecting — driving under the influence of marijuana.

With federal courts in Virginia, Utah, and Oklahoma striking down laws banning same-sex marriage, Indiana punts its proposed constitutional ban two years down the road.

ELECTIONS

Republican Frank Addivinola, who lost to Democrat Katherine Clark in the 5th Congressional District special election, decides to take on US Sen. Ed Markey in November.

GAMBLING

Twin River casino in Rhode Island is gearing up, strategically and financially, for competition from Massachusetts, the Associated Press reports.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Globe editorial page continues its multi-part crusade on behalf of low-paid restaurant workers.

Could Mayor Marty Walsh be trying to woo Wall Street firms put off by Bill de Blasio’s soak-the-rich approach to income inequality?  It seems so, but the union-backed mayor isn’t exactly trumpeting what could be a politically awkward pitch.

Let’s not allow a rerun of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac horror film that helped tank the economy already once, writes Paul McMorrow.

WBUR asks: Are micro-apartments Boston’s housing solution or a cash cow for developers?

The medical marijuana dispensary licensed to operate in Lowell sees 58,000 potential clients in the area, the Sun reports.

The Wall Street Journal says that the Bitcoin virtual currency is at a turning point: It might become the next email, or it could burst like Dutch tulip bulbs.

EDUCATION

New England is slow to adopt virtual schools, the Associated Press reports.

Massachusetts is finally getting on board — it’s the last state to do so — with national efforts to fingerprint all school employees to check for criminal records.

Students claim banks are profiting off their financial aid, charging as much as $1,000 in small fees on debit cards linked to their financial aid accounts.

Somerset police have removed and suspended the department’s school resource officer after allegations of inappropriate conduct with a recent graduate of Somerset Berkley Regional High School.

HEALTH CARE

Soda taxes don’t hurt the job marketand raise significant government revenues, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health.

With 64 heroin overdoses in Taunton since the beginning of the year, including five deaths, law enforcement officials and residents are trying to find ways to deal with the dramatic spike.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The National Review takes a look at Secretary of State John Kerry’s six-day trip to rail against those contributing to climate change and calculates the diplomatic tour generated more than 12 tons of carbon, nearly two-thirds of what the average American generates in a year.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The US is detaining hundreds of immigrants, including a Czech national being held at the Suffolk County House of Correction, some of them for years, without any charges being filed, as the government tries to deport them as possible security threats.

A Fall River Herald News analysis of court records finds police are arresting people who record them with cellphones on public streets, charging them with violating the state’s wiretap law, despite a Supreme Court ruling that citizens can legally record police in public.

Can someone violate a restraining order using a social media website such as Pinterest? The Salem News highlights a Beverly case dealing with that issue.

MEDIA

Boston magazine dives deep inside John Henry’s quest to save the Globe — and journalism.

WHAT’S IN A NAME

Many local Cape Verdeans say they will continue to call their ancestral homeland Cape Verde despite the country’s official worldwide notice that henceforth the island archipelago be called Cabo Verde.