While his final total of $85 million in contributions to environmentally-conscious candidates falls short of his famous $100 million pledge, billionaire former hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer has still thrown a large amount of money at Democratic candidates across the country in an effort to, in a sense, out-Koch the Koch brothers.
But with electoral predictions leaning heavily towards a Republican takeover of Congress, and with the Kochs still outspending Steyer by a sizeable margin (contributing an estimated $125 million this election cycle to conservative candidates through their PAC Americans For Prosperity), it remains to be seen whether Steyer’s effort to become a one-man political party will translate into green-friendly gains in offices across the nation.
Steyer is the founder and a former partner of the hedge fund Farallon Capital Management, and has an estimated net worth of $1.6 billion. He left his position with Farallon in 2012 after becoming disheartened with the lack of dialogue on climate change in the 2012 elections, and established the Political Action Committee NextGen Climate Action.
Steyer has been an active Democratic fundraiser for years and has successfully supported the campaigns of Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. Steyer-backed candidates are facing off against Koch-backed candidates in eight major elections today, and Steyer has funded numerous other candidates in states such as Iowa and Washington.
Florida has been one of Steyer’s biggest battleground efforts, with Steyer’s contributions playing a potentially major role in closing the gap in the gubernatorial race between Republican incumbent Rick Scott and former one-term governor and recent democratic convert Charlie Crist. As The New York Times noted, Crist has closed a former eight percentage point gap to hold a two percentage point lead as of October. The race, however, is exceptionally close, and Steyer has singled out Florida as particularly important to NextGen, citing the state’s extreme vulnerability to climate change.
However, critics of Steyer point to the fact that a significant portion of Farallon’s major holdings were invested in coal power. While Steyer himself has proclaimed that he has divested his personal holdings from coal power, Farallon maintains accounts with coal companies. According to The New York Times, Farallon has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in coal plants in Asia, Oceania and Australia, with some of these facilities expected to continue producing large amounts of coal waste through at least 2030.