August 22, 2014
A billionaire climate activist is putting big bucks into a campaign to defeat Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett.
Tom Steyer made his fortune managing a hedge fund he created, Farallon Capital Management. Now the political action committee he created, Next Gen Climate, is trying to elect candidates who will act to slow down climate change.
That’s put Tom Corbett in Steyer’s crosshairs. Next Gen Climate spent at least $480,000 airing an ad in July attacking Corbett, according to FCC records made available through the Sunlight Foundation.
Steyer's pledged $50 million of his own money and said he'd try to raise another $50 million for the campaign, but he's had a hard time raising that cash.
“We're trying to participate in places where there is a big differential on something that we think is the generational challenge of our times,” he told NPR in February.
Next Gen Climate says it zeroed in on Pennsylvania because of Corbett’s past comments that climate change was still “a subject of debate.”
The Republican Corbett faces a stiff challenge from Democrat Tom Wolf in November’s election.
The ad Next Gen aired (seen below) slams Corbett’s ties to the gas industry, and insinuates that giving tax breaks to oil and gas companies was a higher priority to his administration than education.
“Corbett’s mismanagement has caused a huge budget deficit, and his painful education cuts are forcing teacher layoffs, and increasing class sizes,” a narrator says, over images of children.
The Corbett campaign disputes the claims made by the ad. It sent a letter to stations in July, asking them to pull the ad, saying it contained deliberate falsehoods. But the stations kept the ad on the air.
Megan Sweeney of the Pennsylvania Republican Party says the ad misrepresents Corbett’s record, especially on education. She points out that the “painful cuts” it mentions were a result of one-time federal stimulus money running out.
"Governor Corbett had no control over those stimulus funds—they were gone on June 30th of his first year in office."
She also points out Steyer’s climate record is far from clean. The hedge fund he ran made money by investing in coal mines.
“He’s doing one thing that benefits him financially while on the other hand he’s advocating for energy taxes, like cap-and-trade.”
Steyer has said he left that hedge fund job because he had a change of heart about climate change.
He still has investments in the fund. But his portfolio does not include fossil fuel holdings.
Despite Steyer’s focus on climate change, if you listen closely to his ad attacking Corbett, you’ll notice something’s missing—any mention of climate change.
That’s no accident, says Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall University. Climate change is a big deal, but it’s far down on the priority list for voters.
"It’s an issue,” he says. “But it’s not going to dominate the campaign. This is about education, jobs and the economy. And more and more, it’ll be about Corbett."