Tycoon Tom Steyer offers green US congressmen US$100m to fight polls

Hedge fund investor Tom Steyer pledges poll cash to pro-environment US congressmen

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 10:23pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 3:54am

A California hedge fund investor has pledged US$100 million to pro-environment US congressional election campaigns, bolstering the battle against climate change.

Billionaire Tom Steyer this week hosted Democratic US Senate leader Harry Reid of Nevada and six other Democratic lawmakers for a fundraiser at his San Francisco home. He is also planning an advertising campaign for candidates who support tough action on climate change.

Steyer, founder of the hedge fund Farallon Capital, plans to spend US$50 million of his own money and raise anotherUS$50 million from other donors for the November midterm elections.

His aim is for his NextGen Climate Action advocacy group to serve as a political counterweight to the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, who have already spent US$30 million this year on attack ads targeting vulnerable Democratic senators who have supported the healthcare reform law known as Obamacare.

Steyer hosted Reid and some of Congress' most active climate change advocates: Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, Jeanne Shaheen, Ben Cardin, Patrick Leahy, and Tom Udall, and House of Representatives member Gary Peters.

They were joined by former US vice-president Al Gore, who has spent much of his post-Washington life campaigning for strong climate change legislation, such as a carbon tax.

Steyer used the opportunity to share the latest results of a poll his group released that show voters are deeply concerned about the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

The poll of 5,000 voters conducted by SurveyUSA found that 85 per cent want Congress to know whether the Canadian oil being transported by the pipeline will end up overseas.

Matt Dempsey of the group Oil Sands Fact Check disputed the findings of the NextGen poll and said most Americans favoured construction of the pipeline.

"What do you do when you're clearly on the losing side in your own party? You pay for your own poll that asks misleading questions designed to get the results you want," he said.

Steyer has been a vocal opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline and has called on the Obama administration to reject a permit that would allow the project to cross the US-Canadian border.

Steyer 's group is even willing to challenge vulnerable Democrats who have voiced support for the pipeline, including Senate Energy Committee chairwoman Mary Landrieu.

Chris Lehane, a political adviser to Steyer, said NextGen was looking at 14 possible campaigns to target this election season but said they had not finalised the list.

The group will consider three questions when deciding whether to get involved: will the climate change issue play a role at the polls; will the state be relevant to the 2016 presidential race or to keeping control of the Senate this year; and will a state pursue a significant climate initiative if a prospective candidate wins?

Steyer may also be considering the governor's race in Florida and supporting the challenger to incumbent Republican Rick Scott. Scott has said that scientific evidence has not established that humans have caused climate change.