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.
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.”
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