Hedge Fund Billionaire to Step Up Climate Change Advocacy Efforts

Hedge Fund Billionaire to Step Up Climate Change Advocacy Efforts

Tom Steyer, founder of Farrallon Capital Management, one of the world's most successful hedge funds, and now a full-time philanthropist and political activist, is planning to spend $100 million during the 2014 election cycle to unseat lawmakers opposed to action on climate change, the New York Times reports.

Recently, Steyer, who spent $11 million to help elect Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia and millions more on a Democratic primary race in Massachusetts, invited two dozen liberal donors and environmental philanthropists to contribute $50 million to his political organization, NextGen Climate Action, to match $50 million of his own. The money will be used to fund political advertising campaigns in select races in 2014, including the gubernatorial race in Florida, where incumbent Rick Scott is on record as saying he does not believe science has established that climate change is driven by human activity, and in Iowa, where Rep. Bruce Braley, an outspoken proponent of measures to limit climate change, is running for the U.S. Senate.

NextGen Climate, a twenty-person operation that includes a super PAC, a research organization, and a political advocacy nonprofit, emerged from a successful 2012 campaign in California to pass a ballot initiative that eliminated a loophole in the state's corporate income tax and earmarked a portion of the revenues to clean-energy projects. Now the organization is seeking to tap the fortunes of Silicon Valley, where many deep-pocketed donors rank climate change as their top political issue. The group's higher profile also signals a shift within the environmental movement, as an increasing number of donors shift their financial resources from philanthropy and education to campaign vehicles designed to contest and win critical elections.

Unlike some on the left, Steyer has embraced the political toolbox that was opened to wealthy donors and other interests by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which makes it easier for businesses, unions, and wealthy individuals to pour unlimited funds into elections. "Is it going to take $100 million? I have no idea," Steyer told the Times. "I think that would be a really cheap price to answer the generational challenge of the world."

But efforts such as Steyer’s have drawn criticism — even from those who share his priorities. "A small number of the richest individuals in America are attempting to use their enormous wealth to purchase government decisions to advance their own personal interests," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a group that favors tighter limits on money in politics. "This is about as far as away as we can get from ‘representative government.’ "

Nicholas Confessore. "Financier Plans Big Ad Campaign on Climate Change." New York Times 02/17/2014.