Liberal California billionaire Tom Steyer just learned a big lesson about changing climate. The former hedge fund manager tried to make global warming the big issue in 2014. Instead, voters told him there was a chill in the air for his agenda.
As a result, he lost in nearly three out of four races he funded. Steyer had donated $73.8 million to this election cycle to fund more than 7,000 advertisements in seven key states. That made him the single biggest political donor this election cycle.
However, out of the $30.8 million of that money that went to seven specific races according to Open Secrets, more than $22.4 million, 73 percent, went to candidates who ended up losing their races. Even The Washington Post on Nov. 3 noted that Steyer’s ad campaign didn’t seem to be influencing the election much -- at least not according to national polling data available at the time.
Steyer has done most of his political campaigning through his political action committee, Nextgen Climate. There are 38 unique political commercials listed on Nextgen’s YouTube channel. According to the Oct. 2, 2014, Washington Post, Tom Steyer’s operation “has paid for 7,050 ads in Senate races in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and New Hampshire and in the Florida governor’s race.” This number doesn’t include the governor’s races in Pennsylvania and Maine, on which Steyer and Nextgen have donated at least $2.4 million.
Nextgen’s ads have ranged from bizarre to downright unfactual. One ad featured people in monkey and banana costumes, dancing in front of a psychedelic background to remind people to get out and vote. Another implied that the Koch brothers belonged to the same group of people who “told us the world was flat, and insisted it was the center of the universe.”
Another ad that targeted the Keystone Pipeline also featured so many errors that The Washington Post gave it four out of four “Pinocchios.” Steyer’s campaign cash even paid for a small model of Noah’s Ark to tour Florida. The stunt claimed that Florida Gov. Rick Scott was going to let climate change flood his state, and then he would save his powerful friends in an ark.
Earlier this year, Steyer’s team had promised that Nextgen Climate would raise $100 million in the 2014 election cycle -- half coming from Steyer himself and half coming from outside donors. But when the PAC only managed to raise $2 million, Steyer denied knowing where that number came from.
He told The Los Angeles Times on Oct. 12, that he blamed “"somebody I don't know who has never owned up to it." However, the Times noted that “[a]ctually, Steyer's political strategists suggested the sum, both in public and private.” This $100 million number was widely repeated by major news outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, without any protest from Steyer until it became obvious that the goal wouldn’t be reached by election day.
Nextgen has faced criticism, even from the left, for political ads that Politico aptly dubbed “bizarre.” The Post criticized a Nextgen ad targeting the Keystone Pipeline, giving it “four Pinocchios,” the most scathing falsehood rating that the Post can give to something. (The explanation of the Pinocchio rating system is here.) The ad claimed that the Keystone Pipeline, rather than benefiting U.S. and Canadian interests, would primarily benefit China at the expense of the U.S. The hit job even included an out of context quote from Alexander Pourbaix, the Executive Vice-President and President of Development for TransCanada.
According to the Post, that ad in particular “does not even meet the minimal standards for such political attack ads. It relies on speculation, not facts, to make insinuations and assertions not justified by the reality.” The Post, which is neither conservative nor in favor of the pipeline, called the ad “especially disturbing, even by the standards of attack ads.”
Yet, Steyer defended that same ad to the Los Angeles Times on Oct. 12, arguing “"I have not seen anything ... that I did not think was supportable.” (Ellipses theirs).
Here’s how much Steyer and Nextgen donated to each of those seven races:
New Hampshire: $3,148,272
But no one on the broadcast networks was paying any attention. ABC, CBS and NBC have done just one story mentioning Steyer and his funding since that the founding of his Center for the Next Generation, and even then it was a mere 34 words in a story about the Koch brothers.
Charles and David Koch got the once-over from all three networks. There were 22 mentions of the Kochs funding conservative groups or politicians in that time. That’s a 22-1 ratio.