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Steyer in Aspen: 2014 focus is on turning out climate change voters

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San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer is pledging to spend $50 million in 2014 in support of candidates willing to push for action to combat climate change.

San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer is pledging to spend $50 million in 2014 in support of candidates willing to push for action to combat climate change.

ASPEN, Colo. — San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, who has pledged to spend $50 million this campaign cycle in support of candidates willing to take action on climate change, spoke Tuesday at a conference here about the challenges of making progress through the political system.

In an illustration of those challenges, Steyer, between sessions at the American Renewable Energy Day summit here, held several meetings with activists and wealthy donors in an effort to find additional financial support for his NextGen Climate political action committee.

“He wants to raise $50 million that he can match,” a conference organizer told FOX31 Denver. “Right now, he’s raised about $7 [million].

Steyer’s plan mirrors that of mega-donors on the right — leveraging his personal fortune on behalf of candidates who support his agenda: supporting Democrats who will push for action to combat climate change and going after Republican incumbents who deny climate science.

Acknowledging that some donors prefer to give to organizations other than NextGen, Steyer believes activists demanding action on climate change will have an impact on the November election.

“The ultimate question will be will we have enough money to run the programs we need to run and the answer is yes,” Steyer said. “Definitely, yes.”

Steyer, who has come under fire of late amidst disclosures that much of the fortune he amassed at Farallon Capital Management came in part from investing in companies that operate coal mines, is supporting Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in his reelection bid against Republican Congressman Cory Gardner, who has denied that climate change is impacted by human activity.

“We tried to go into states where there is a big difference between the candidates,” said Steyer, who explained that the 2014 strategy is more about turning out pro-environment voters than persuading swing voters to care more about the issue of climate change.

“A lot of people who support pro-environment candidates like Mark Udall are some of the likeliest drop-off voters. So we are focused not so much on TV ads but on the things that will be old-fashioned, 18th- century politics, trying to get local people to talk to local voters and citizens and why it’s important enough for them to get off the couch and go down to the polling place in the second Tuesday in November,” Steyer said.

“This is much more about showing up than persuasion.”

Steyer and Gene Karpinski, CEO of the League of Conservation Voters, both said that playing in the Colorado senate race was an easy call.

“Mark Udall has a 97 percent lifetime score [with the League of Conservation Voters] and not only does he vote right, he’s a champion,” said Karpinski.

“[Republican challenger] Cory Gardner has a nine percent lifetime score. When Tom and I made a priority list, Colorado was on there. There’s such a sharp contrast.”

Republicans have increasingly looked to denounce Steyer as a hypocrite and to portray the candidates he supports as taking cues from the Californian mega-donor.

Steyer shrugged off comparisons to the billionaire Koch brothers, who are both worth $41 billion, and noted that spending by outside groups favors Republicans by roughly a seven-to-one margin.

He explained that he resigned from his job as a hedge fund manager in 2012 in order to leverage his own wealth in an effort to do something significant about climate change, not to protect his own bottom line.

“We looked and said what is the means of social change in America and for 200 years the means have been people going and voting,” Steyer said. “We decided that politics was the way for social change in our country.”