GOP sees Kochs, raises Steyer

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Republicans are turning the tables on Democrats by attacking a hedge-fund magnate who has pledged a $100 million campaign to address climate change in the 2014 election.

By highlighting billionaire Tom Steyer and his political activity, the GOP is taking a page out of the playbook of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). For the last several months, Reid has repeatedly lambasted Charles and David Koch, wealthy conservative donors who Democrats believe can be election-year bogeymen.

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The Republican National Committee (RNC) released a memo on Wednesday that accused Senate Democrats of blocking the Keystone XL pipeline because of Steyer’s promise to spend heavily on political races this fall. Democrats scoff at that assertion, saying they offered Republicans a Keystone vote, but the GOP can’t take “yes” for an answer.

The RNC memo painted Steyer as a hypocrite for touting the harmful effects of carbon emissions, despite the fact that he made money off a fund invested heavily in oil and gas companies, including a Keystone competitor.

“Those who support Steyer’s extremist views say they’re doing so for environmental reasons. But do they know where Steyer earned his money? For over 20 years, Steyer managed Farallon Capital Management, which invested heavily in oil and gas companies, including a competitor with the Keystone XL pipeline,” the RNC stated.

The document pointed out that Steyer reportedly invested in Nexen, a company that runs major oil sands extraction projects in Canada, as well as in a coal plant in Indonesia.

Suzanne Henkels, a spokeswoman for Steyer, said Republican and Koch brothers-funded attacks have only elevated the message that climate change needs to be solved.

“They all validate that Tom (along with others) is accelerating the movement of the political tectonic plates when it comes to standing up for kids on climate,” she wrote in an email.

She said “the big oil blowhards” have trouble gaining traction with their attacks because Steyer has already “acknowledged having left the hedge fund as a result of not being able to reconcile his personal values with a business that by definition is in all sectors of the global economy.”

She added that he has already directed that his funds be divested and is “giving away the money he has made to the public good, including and most prominently climate.”Senate Republicans on Wednesday accused Democrats of catering to Steyer’s agenda, an echo of Reid’s efforts to tie the GOP to the Koch brothers.

“What frustrates me is the press is always focused on the big-money influence on Republicans, where the real big-money influence is really on the Democrats’ side,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). “You’ve got guys like George Soros and Tom Steyer; that’s where the real story is.”

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said Steyer “neutralizes” Reid’s attacks on Republicans and the Koch brothers.

“Now they got their $100 million donor that’s going to run ads everywhere and promote his agenda; I think that helps neutralize that issue,” he said.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) recently chided Reid on the floor for bashing the Koch brothers while remaining silent on Steyer.

“I wondered why he left out billionaire Tom Steyer, who plans to spend as much as $100 million pushing the issue of climate change in the 2014 election and ‘appears primed to rival the deep-pocketed and conservative Koch brothers,’ according to The New York Times,” McConnell said.

Steyer rejected the comparison in a recent C-SPAN “Newsmakers” interview, claiming “real distinctions.”

He said the Kochs’ policy goals ‘line up perfectly with their pocketbooks — and that’s not true for us.”

Republicans, however, questioned that defense.

GOP staffers note Steyer invited Reid and six other Democratic senators to a fundraiser at his San Francisco home that raised $400,000 for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, said Democrats have become more vocal on the issue of climate change since Steyer announced he would put $50 million of his own money toward a $100 million campaign touting the need to slow climate change.

He cited an all-night talk-a-thon Democrats waged on the Senate floor, a White House report released Tuesday on the impact of changing weather patterns and speeches by Democratic leaders this week.

Many political observers expected President Obama to approve the Keystone pipeline this summer, but his administration once again delayed a decision on it. Republicans say that Steyer — a strong opponent of the proposed project — had a huge influence on that delay.

Before this year, Senate Democrats have generally steered clear of climate change since Obama’s cap-and-trade proposal failed to get a Senate vote in the 111th Congress.

Democrats say climate change is resurging as an issue in the upper chamber because the political winds have shifted.

“The politics have changed,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “I think people now realize that the sea is going to rise and weather is going to become more and more volatile and that it’s real.

“This is beginning to get through,” she added.

Feinstein said Steyer’s role has also emboldened Democrats.

“I think that’s great. I think people who can be helpful that way, particularly [with] campaigns that explain,” she said.

She said the White House climate report released this week received extensive media coverage, which also helps advance the debate.

An April Gallup poll shows the number of respondents who attribute global warming to human activity and are concerned about it has grown by 6 percentage points to 39 percent since the 2010 midterm election. The poll showed that 25 percent are not concerned about climate change.

Jay Campbell, senior vice president at Hart Research, a Democratic polling firm, said climate change has become an asset for his party.

“Voters who identify themselves as Democrats are wholly on board with an agenda that addresses climate change,” he said. “From a base perspective, there’s no down side at all.” 

He said survey data show that, “in most cases, independents are entirely on board with addressing climate change as well.”

During an interview earlier this spring on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Steyer challenged the Koch brothers to debate him on climate change. The Kochs subsequently declined, saying they are not experts on the issue.