Climate change: Super PAC targets Republicans who deny human role in warming

Billionaire Tom Steyer has pledged $50m. to NextGen Climate Action. In a bid to counter the Koch brothers, the super PAC is targeting Republicans who deny human-caused climate change.

Steve Helber/AP/File
Retired hedge fund manager Tom Steyer is setting his sights on Republicans who reject climate change. The billionaire environmentalist is unveiling plans to spend $100 million this year in seven competitive Senate and gubernatorial races, as his super PAC works to counteract a flood of conservative spending by the Koch brothers.

Environmentalist billionaire Tom Steyer is taking aim at Republican politicians who reject climate change.

The retired hedge fund manager’s super political action committee, NextGen Climate Action, announced plans Wednesday to plunge $100 million into seven congressional and gubernatorial races, where Democratic candidates face opponents who have publicly expressed doubts about anthropogenic climate change or who receive donations from the fossil fuel industry.

"The debate on climate change is settled," Mr. Steyer told Reuters. "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."

Steyer has thrown his financial backing behind Democratic candidates in the past, including President Obama and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, but the NextGen campaign represents a more concerted effort to counter the massive sums being spent on Republican candidates by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch’s super PAC, Americans for Prosperity, according to NextGen's chief strategist, Chris Lehane.

"We're spending a drop in the big-oil bucket compare to what the fossil fuel industry is spending,” Mr. Lehane told the Associated Press. “All Tom is trying to do is really to level the playing field."

Steyer has already pledged $50 million of his own funds to NextGen and hopes to entice likeminded donors to match his contribution. Still, it is unclear if Democrats will be able to compete with Republican super PACs. The Koch brothers reportedly poured $400 million into the 2012 elections.

What NextGen lacks in spending power, it plans to make up for in pointed strategy. NextGen strategists will focus calculated ad campaigns that play on issues central to local constituencies in seven states. Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Maine, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania are all in the super PAC’s sights.

“We are not going to be talking about polar bears and butterflies,” Lehane told the Los Angeles Times. “We are going to be talking about how this issue of climate impacts people in their backyards, in their states, in their communities.”

In Colorado, NextGen plans to capitalize on existing energy and environment concerns and urge voters to defeat Rep. Cory Gardner (R), who is running for the US Senate. Representative Gardner, who rejects the role of human activity in climate change, opposed new rules combating carbon pollution.

In Florida, NextGen is planning television ads that will highlight the potential impact of climate change on voters' budgets by way of soaring flood insurance premiums in an effort to turn voters against Gov. Rick Scott.

In New Hampshire, ads will likely target Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown’s recent oped backing the Keystone XL pipeline that "spouted regular Republican talking points that are absolute misinformation," NextGen's political director Sky Gallegos told the Associated Press.

In Iowa, NextGen will focus on the role of climate change in the drought that has plagued the state, the LATimes reports.

The idea is to initiate “a long-term conversation with voters,” Mr. Gallegos told the Times. “We want to talk to them and make a real connection of how climate hits them at the household level.”

Material from Reuters and the Associated Press was included in this report.

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