Big money in politics has surfaced in the form of political action committees, undisclosed elite investors, and lobbyists entrenched deep within the system. Billionaire and former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer plans to take advantage of what he sees as the new political landscape by pledging to spend at least $100 million in the 2014 elections. His wealth will be used to influence legislation that addresses climate change by funneling money into the San Francisco-based NextGen Climate Action organization and fund attack ads for those in denial of global warming regardless of party affiliation.
Steyer began his political career last year when he spent $11 million to help elect Virginia’s governor Terry McAuliffe and several million more to sway the Massachusetts Democratic congressional primary. He also helped close a California corporate income tax loophole and funneled the revenue into clean energy projects. An opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, Steyer was behind recent 90 second ads to halt its construction. With these successes, Steyer is now seeking the aid of fellow elites to donate to NextGen Climate Action. If his colleagues raise $50 million, he is willing to match the amount with his own cash.
NextGen Climate Action employs a team of 20 people and encompasses a research department and political polling wing; the group uses targeted advertising to reach voters not traditionally concerned with climate change. The super PAC has its sights on the governor’s race in Florida, where they are looking to replace Rick Scott, who has refuted the man-made causes of global warming. They are also hoping to bring victory to Democratic Representative Bruce Braley in Iowa, who has been vocal in his commitment to curb climate change. NextGen has asked its supporters to choose from five candidates this year against whom to target negative ads, including both Democrats and Republicans.
While some environmentalists are pleased that there are major, well-funded players to contend with the likes of the Koch brothers, the emergence of super PACs highlights the extent to which big money dominates politics. Nonetheless, Steyer believes that with the country facing the greatest challenge of an era, it cannot afford to lose time over deadlocked, partisan divides.