Billionaire eco-activist shifts focus to attacking GOP on life and marriage

Climate, abortion, and birth control are three 'proof points' that show the GOP is 'fundamentally out of touch,' he claims.
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Environmentalist Tom Steyer attends the Time 100 Gala for the Most Influential People in the World at the Frederick P. Rose Hall at Lincoln Center on April 29, 2014 in New York City. Debby Wong /
Kirsten Andersen By Kirsten Andersen

Kirsten Andersen By Kirsten Andersen

Environmental activists have long been stereotyped as tree-hugging hippie slackers, more likely to smoke plant life – perhaps while tweeting dire predictions about climate change on their iPhones – than actually do anything to save it.

After trying – and failing – to raise $100 million in funding to support environmentalist Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections, billionaire eco-activist Tom Steyer has apparently come to the conclusion that the stereotypes are true.  As a result, he’s redirecting his NextGen Climate PAC – founded with the intent of making climate change a major campaign issue – to address social issues instead, with a special focus on same-sex “marriage” and birth control.

Polls have repeatedly shown that environmental issues are a losing issue when it comes to politics, with the percentage of people who cite them as their primary motivating factor in their election decisions hovering in the single-digits.  Having failed to make much headway in turning climate change into a top campaign issue, NextGen has defaulted to riding the coattails of more emotionally resonant social issues as they fight to influence voters.

“Climate fits very neatly into a series of issues that define the Republican band as being extreme and out of touch," NextGen Senior Strategist Chris Lehane said in a conference call on Wednesday, according to the liberal Talking Points Memo blog. “And so in Colorado we have focused on using climate to frame the Republican Cory Gardner as an extremist and our advertising includes climate and includes choice and includes same-sex marriage and links all of them as three proof points to make the point that Republicans are fundamentally out of touch.”

In Colorado, Steyer’s group has spent $800,000 on TV ads and digital billboards attacking Rep. Gardner, who is running for U.S. Senate.  While one of the three billboard images mentions climate change, the other two focus on birth control and gay “marriage.”  The group’s Colorado website also slams the congressman for supporting a proposed federal Personhood amendment that would define life as beginning at conception and criminalize abortion.

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“From issues of climate science to women’s health, there’s no debate that Congressman Gardner is attempting to impose his extreme views on Colorado families,” NextGen spokeswoman Abby Leeper told the Denver Post.

NextGen is also targeting Republican senatorial candidates in New Hampshire, Iowa, and Michigan, as well as Republican gubernatorial candidates in Florida, Maine, and Pennsylvania on social issues.  While Lehane told conference call participants that those issues would mainly be abortion, contraception, and same-sex “marriage,” he said gun control might also be on the agenda in some states.

"Those three or four issues all are effectively proof points of the larger troglodyte brand that you certainly just can't trust the Republicans, you can't give the keys to the car, turn over the state to them, turn over the Senate to them because they're just not trustworthy in terms of doing the right thing,” Lehane said.

Although many of NextGen’s attacks have blasted Republicans for accepting money from billionaire out-of-state donors like Charles and David Koch, it is worth nothing that NextGen itself got its start after Steyer, himself a billionaire, poured resources into helping former Clinton fundraiser and Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe defeat pro-life Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli in the race for Virginia governor last year.  Steyer hails from California.

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