Thomas Steyer considering a run at California Senate seat

Thomas Steyer, often described as "a billionaire," might run for a U.S. Senate seat in California. That could have an impact on Washington state politics.
Thomas Steyer, often described as “a billionaire,” might run for a U.S. Senate seat in California. That could have an impact on Washington state politics.

In this story from Roll Call comes the news that Thomas Steyer, who spent $1.25 million in the 2014 election in Washington and $525,000 in 2013 in the 26th Legislative District Senate race, is considering a run for the U.S. Senate.

On Tuesday he wrote on Huffington Post, “I will decide soon based on what I think is the best way to continue the hard work we’ve already started together to prevent climate disaster and preserve American prosperity.”

For us the question is whether this means he would stop donating money to out-of-state races while he’s running and should he win. I reached out to Steyer’s NextGen Climate organization and received no response.

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the DC-based campaign finance watchdog organization Center for Responsive Politics, answered by email that she didn’t know of any precedent that could predict how Steyer would respond.

But there is nothing to prevent him from continuing to make contributions down to state and local level according to whatever limits those states allow,” Krumholz wrote.

The California race promises to be expensive, though, and even a billionaire can eventually run out of money.

Steyer’s money played a big role in the drama, though not so much the result, in the 2013 26th Legislative District election battled between appointed incumbent state Sen. Nathan Schlicher, a Democrat, and the eventual winner, Republican Jan Angel.

This ad from 2013 could be changed in the future to read, "California Billionare Extremist Senator ..." after 2016. They might add "Voted with (Insert liberal senator name here.) 96% of the time."
This ad from 2013 could be changed in the future to read, “California Billionare Extremist Senator …” after 2016. They might add “Voted with Al Franken 96% of the time.”

Elected officials do contribute to each other. Krumholz provided a link to a list of candidates who contributed lots to other candidates. They’re limited to $5,000 per candidate. The link leads with, “Members of Congress in safe seats are often asked to contribute some of their campaign funds to candidates in need.” The top donor was Eric Cantor at nearly $1.9 million. His seat turned out to be not so safe.

Steyer, should he win, would replace U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat who went from the House to the Senate following the 1992 election. The Roll Call story makes the case that it would be tough for a current member of Congress to make the same leap Boxer did, because California congressional districts have a smaller proportional footprint than in any other state. California has 53 seats in the House.

For a representative whose name is known primarily in only 1/53 of the state, it’s tough to imagine getting play in the other 52/53.

A couple of other things that are worth noting from the story.

  • Experts are predicting this race will cost more than $100 million.
  • California uses a top-two primary system and leans far enough left that it’s not unreasonable to think that the two final candidates could both be Democrats.

Talking Points Memo has a story that focuses exclusively on Steyer and his strengths (money) and his weaknesses (money) should he run.

 

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