Tom Steyer's Political Reality Check
Has the San Francisco billionaire figured out that voters don't care about climate change?
By JAMES FREEMAN
May 22, 2014 9:55 a.m. ET THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, who made money from fossil fuels but now seeks to prevent others from doing the same, appears to be sitting out most of this year's key political campaigns.
On Wednesday Mr. Steyer's environmental group, NextGen Climate, revealed that it will be targeting just four U.S. Senate races as it draws on the $100 million that Mr. Steyer has pledged to raise to promote green candidates. Perhaps that is because there are very places where voters are looking for such candidates. A March Gallup poll finding that most Americans worry about climate change "a little" or "not at all" is consistent with other surveys showing that the issue is not even close to being a top priority for U.S. voters.
And of course among the large majority who don't consider it a priority, many are vehemently opposed to the idea of making energy more expensive. The Journal notes that the potential populist alternative to Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination is former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who runs a mining company and maintains "a big appetite for oil and gas exploration."
In choosing to spend money in just Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan, Mr. Steyer's NextGen is steering clear of most of the battleground states that will decide control of the U.S. Senate. The organization says that it wants to bring the climate issue "to the forefront of American politics" and presents itself as an opponent of "special interest groups" but it seems to be taking pains to avoid the many places where general interest groups, i.e. voters, favor cheap energy. The group apparently has no plans to play in tight races in Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, or North Carolina, partly because in many of those places even Democratic candidates are at least pretending to favor energy production.
And even in the few states where it will play, the group will have to be careful not to harm the Democratic candidates favored by Mr. Steyer. The Washington Post notes that in Colorado, for example, NextGen confronts the awkward reality that liberal incumbent Sen. Mark Udall has said nice things about fracking.
We appear to have here almost a caricature of a special interest, pouring money into politics while all but acknowledging that most voters don't agree with the aims of the organization.
For the record, Mr. Steyer says that his investments are now confined to "green" enterprises. But his political aides claim that he will not benefit financially from the policies he promotes via NextGen.
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