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Activist Tom Steyer Announces Big-Spending Election Plan to Take Down Climate-Denying Candidates

There's no dark money in Tom Steyer's green coffers.

Alongside his political action committee, NextGen Climate, the billionaire environmentalist and Democrat on Wednesday announced plans to spend big on seven election races this November, with hopes to elect senators and governors around the country who are dedicated to combating climate change. He will spend at least $50 million supporting such candidates, while also fundraising another $50 million from other donors.

Tom Steyer is ready to put his money where is mouth is in anticipation of pivotal midterm races across the country. Photo credit: NextGen Climate

“The debate on climate change is settled: It is here, it is human-caused and it is already having a devastating impact on our communities, but we need to accelerate the level of political support to address this critical issue before it’s too late,” said Steyer, who founded NextGen in 2013. “This means making politicians feel the heat—in their campaign coffers and at the polls.”

Here are the races Steyer is targeting and why, as described by NextGen:

  • Colorado U.S. Senate Race: Fossil fuel development and its adverse health impacts affect Colorado’s most vulnerable communities, yet Senate candidate Cory Gardner—a science denier—has taken hundreds of thousands in donations from fossil fuel companies while voting for their interests.

  • Florida Gubernatorial Race: While communities across Florida are threatened by sea-level rise, saltwater intrusion and rising flood insurance costs, Gov. Rick Scott is a climate denier and has decimated efforts to “preserve environmentally sensitive land.”

  • Iowa U.S. Senate Race: Iowa’s farms and rural communities are feeling the pain in their wallets and on their land due to record floods coming on the heels of a record drought, while State Sen. Joni Ernst has “not seen proven proof ” that climate change “is entirely man-made” and former energy CEO Mark Jacobs is “not convinced that man-made causes are causing” climate change.

  • Maine Gubernatorial Race: The forestry industry in Maine is at risk and fishermen are already experiencing the negative effects of higher ocean temperatures, yet Gov. LePage denies that climate change is a threat, rather saying it offers Maine “a lot of opportunities.”

  • Michigan U.S. Senate Race: Air pollution is affecting kids’ education across Michigan, with over half of Hispanic and African American children attending school in the most polluted areas, yet Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land has the support of the Koch Brothers who are spending millions on her race and have threatened the state’s water and air quality with their dirty energy stockpiles.

  • New Hampshire U.S. Senate Race: New Hampshire’s tourism industry—which supports more than 60,000 jobs—stands to be devastated by the effects of climate change; meanwhile Senate candidate Scott Brown looks out for the Koch Brothers and his Big Oil buddies, taking their campaign dollars and voting to protect $24 billion in oil subsidies.

  • Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Race: Low-income communities in Pennsylvania are disproportionately affected by asthma and often live in the shadow of the state’s biggest polluters; meanwhile Gov. Corbett favors powerful corporate energy executives over Pennsylvania families.

NextGen says it will use climate change as a "wedge issue" to inspire voter turnout while exposing why climate deniers would make poor leaders and legislators.

“This is the year, in our view, where we are able to demonstrate you can use climate—if you do it well and in a smart way—as a wedge issue to win in political races,” Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist known as Steyer's right-hand man, told a group of reporters on Wednesday, according to The Hill. “The side that does a better job of changing or expanding the voter pool is the side that has the competitive advantage.”

Lehane said NextGen's strategy will be heavy on data and localizing issues, while NextGen's statement says an "all-star political team" will be on deck to drive home the message. For instance, if flood insurance rates have gone up in an area impacted by climate change, potential voters will hear about it. The same goes for health issues brought on by fracking and drilling.

While Steyer spent about $8 million on last year's Virginia  gubernatorial race to successfully land Terry McAuliffe in office, NextGen realizes climate denying candidates and their funders will be tough to take down.

"We are never going to have as much money, but all we need is enough for David’s slingshot is to fire through," Lehane said, "and to fire fast and to fire quick to be able to reach the big oil Goliath.”

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