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Nancy Smith

Anti-Koch Billionaire Tom Steyer Wants Rick Scott Out

February 21, 2014 - 6:00pm

Enter, another major player in the 2014 Florida gubernatorial race -- California hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer, committed soldier in the political war against climate change and apparently Rick Scott.

Steyer, from his San Francisco office earlier this week, lifted the phone and summoned an impressive string of national reporters for a conference call. Just like that he had the nation's top journalists at his fingertips. Main purpose? Apparently to deliver a message to Scott:

You've got $100 million, I've got $100 million. I'm going to get you in November.

I tried to reach Steyer on Friday through the communications staff athis political organization, NextGen Climate Action,to find out why in particular he would go gunning for Scott -- a governor, not a senator -- who gets to influence only one of 50 states, and who focuses 24/7 on the economy and jobs, not science or climate.Nor, to my knowledge, does Scott oppose entrepreneurial renewable energy -- particularly because it means jobs.

Media folks keep writing it's because Scott disparages science, claims it hasn't proven the climate change is man-made. And, of course, because the Florida governor isn't screaming bloody murder about the Keystone XL Pipeline. Personally, I can't remember the last time he talked about any of those things, but what do I know? I wish I could say for sure what Steyer's problem is with Scott. I have a feeling it's more about politics and power than the oceans swallowing us up on Scott's watch. The point is, Steyer's office never got back to me so I don't know for sure.

My best guess is, I think Steyer likes being castas the emerging liberal counterweight to the Koch brothers.

He wants to be likethe Kochs, which is why he's building a vast political network same as they did, and seizing opportunities provided by loose campaign finance rules to insert himself into elections nationwide, also same as they did. But like all liberals and especially enviros, he paints himself seated on the right hand of God, and the Kochs -- who are pushing hard for the oil pipeline -- as the demonic symbol of the American right.

I don't believe Steyer is a phony. That is, he certainly hasn't found religion in the same way, say, Charlie Crist found it. Like so many of the ultra-rich, he does want to make a difference in the world, and he believes fighting adherence to fossil fuels is the way to do it.

But Steyer, 56, is new to this religion. He didn't back away from finance until 2012, so, like it or not, he harbors a world of hypocrisy. Steyer built his fortune with a San Francisco-based hedge fund of the sort that drove protesters to occupy Wall Street. Some of the investments that landed him on the Forbes list of America's wealthiest (he's at $1.5 billion) went into companies he now says are destroying the planet. Adversaries, and it's said in private at least some allies, call him a dilettante.

Steyer's spokesman confirmed that his energy portfolio is being divested and he will avoid backing tar sands or coal investments. He has shifted his focus to promoting his clean energy agenda full-time.

Steyer shocked many liberals when he embraced the political toolbox opened to wealthy donors and other interests in the Supreme Courts Citizens United decision, the one that made it easier for businesses, unions and the rich to throw unlimited money at elections whenever and wherever.

Steyer said this: We have a democratic system, there are parts we would want to reform or change, and Citizens United is prominent in that. But weve accepted the world as it is.

Well, so have the Kochs. There's not much difference between them and Steyer now -- except how much money each is prepared to kick in.

By far the largest contributor to the climate-change denialists isn't the Kochs, says Greenpeace, it's Donors Capital and Donors Trust, two groups that route millions from a generic townhouse in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington. Donors Capital caters to those making donations of $1 million or more.

The Kochs have broad goals for assessing how they will distribute their largesse. They promote liberty, understood to be limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise.

When it comes to blocking action on the climate crisis, the obscure charity in the suburbs is outspending the brothers 6-1.

It's the need to influence an election in Florida, some 3,000 miles from his home territory -- all for the good of the planet in a year when Sunshine State voters have said their primary 2014 issue is the economy -- that 's the thing that needs to be better explained. Does Steyer just want to show money wins? Does he like playing Florida because the nation is watching?

What's so odd is that in 2010, Steyer donated $2.5 million and pledged to contribute $2.5 million more to defeat Proposition 23. Prop 23 would have frozen environmental legislation already on the books in California. Steyer reportedly only got involved because he was "peeved" out-of-state activists were backing it.

Now the tables are turned and guess what? Steyer is the out-of-state activist.

Liberals have long cursed the power of ultra-wealthy people determined to use their billions to advance their political views. With Tom Steyer buying his brand of government -- and using bigger bucks even than Charles and David Koch to do it (see the graphic below) -- their whines won't have quite the same edge.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

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