Steyer drops a million in Washington

Tom Steyer. Photo courtesy of the NextGen Climate website.
Tom Steyer. Photo courtesy of the NextGen Climate website.

Tom Steyer, a California investor who made billions and is now spending much of it on political races, dropped $1 million into the committee he established in Washington to fund races here. His committee, the Nextgen Climate Action Committee-Washington Sponsored by Tom Steyer, now has the second most political contributions this year. Only the Washington Education Association Political Action Committee has more money at this point.

Steyer’s Washington committee (“NextGen” means “next generation.”) has yet to spend any money, but the DC arm of Nextgen has, giving $50,000 each to the Kennedy Fund and the Harry Truman Fund. The Kennedy Fund is for state Senate Democratic efforts and the Harry Truman Fund is for House Democrats.

If any of Steyer’s money were to make it any of our local races the most likely target would be the race between two Democrats, state Sen. Tim Sheldon and Irene Bowling. In an earlier post we referenced a New York Times piece that made the case that Steyer money would likely go to Senate races. Republican Jan Angel’s near 14-point margin in the 26th over Democrat Judy Arbogast in the primary might seem insurmountable for those passing money around. The 35th District race between Sheldon and Bowling would seem to favor Sheldon, but it’s less clear than what happened in the 26th. Steyer wants to see the Senate go Democrat (Bowling Democrat, not Sheldon Democrat) so that Gov. Jay Inslee’s climate agenda would have an easier time getting through the Legislature.

State Sen. Jan Angel, in Nov. 2013, moments after she learned she would likely defeat Nathan Schlicher for a seat in the state Senate.
State Sen. Jan Angel, in Nov. 2013, moments after she learned she would likely defeat Nathan Schlicher for a seat in the state Senate.

During the 2013 election between Angel and Democrat Nathan Schlicher, Angel made the case Democrats have made about the Koch brothers, that he was trying to buy the election. She also questioned his environmental cred, referring to stories that he stood to benefit financially if the Keystone Pipeline project were killed, because he was an investor in another pipeline. That same claim is happening in Iowa, thanks to an American Crossroads ad. Politifact called that claim mostly false. Let’s be clear, it’s mostly false this year, because Steyer’s firm just recently got rid of its fossil fuel money sources.Last year the argument had some legs, even though Steyer had already directed his company to divest from the Kinder Morgan pipeline and other fossil fuel money.

Finally, this also gets to the anonymity question we posed a couple weeks back. Some think political contributions should all be anonymous, because it would mean those spending money could not hold their contributions over a politician’s head. The counter to that argument is because we require transparency in some situations we can make easier links between money and favors.

It’s probably not a huge surprise to you for me to admit that I lean toward more transparency. I see the point of those who want complete anonymity. And I might even one day be persuaded that it’s better. But I think knowing your contribution will be revealed to everyone has the potential of making you more cautious about who you spend money on. And it sets you up as a target. Think what you will of Tom Steyer. On Sept. 18 his committee changed its name to add “sponsored by Tom Steyer.” That’s how it was spelled out last year as well, so I had been curious earlier why his name wasn’t on it originally this year. In most cases we have to go several layers to find out where money is coming from. In state politics a name is usually eventually discoverable. They make you work for it, but you can get to it.

Tom Steyer makes it easy for you.

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