How bad can it be? After all, Tom Steyer has managed to rent out the Senate in March, forcing Democrats into an embarrassing all-nighter to protest a lack of action on climate change in a chamber where they control the agenda. That, however, rested on Steyer’s strength in personal wealth, not his ability to bundle big dollars for Democratic PACs. According to Politico, the billionaire hedge-fund exec has flopped on his pledge to raise $50 million and make climate change a central issue in the midterms:
Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer is falling far short on his pledge to raise $50 million in outside money to make climate change a midterm-election weapon against the GOP.
His super PAC, NextGen Climate Action, has raised just $1.2 million from other donors toward that goal, according to still-unreleased figures that his aides shared with POLITICO. And he appears to be struggling to woo wealthy allies in his effort to compete with big-money conservative donors — leading some supporters to question whether his fundraising goal is realistic.
So far, the only really big donor to the Steyer cause is Steyer himself.
The numbers show just how hard it may be for Steyer to persuade rich liberals to spend their millions on climate change while voters focus on the economy, immigration and Obamacare. They also call into question whether Steyer can really become the big-money titan in Democratic politics — a counterweight to the dominance that deep-pocketed donors like the Koch brothers have achieved in conservative circles.
That may be part of the problem. Harry Reid’s despicable smear tactics about the Koch brothers may have backfired on Democrats among their deep-pocket donor base, especially in relation to funding PACs. Leaks about donors to Democracy Alliance and accusations of hypocrisy (and rank dishonesty) could well be taking their toll. Also, despite Steyer’s talents on Wall Street as a hedge-fund executive, it might be that he’s just not that good of an organizer. If the reporting from Kenneth Vogel and Andrew Restuccia is accurate, that’s at least part of the problem, and al lack of salesmanship might be some of it as well:
[S]everal major Democratic donors have quietly expressed resentment about the effort to seek outside cash, grumbling that it smacks of self-aggrandizement and noting that Steyer has enough money to fund the entire campaign himself.
Some donors complain that Steyer isn’t offering would-be check writers the high-level courtship they’ve come to expect, instead delegating much of the schmoozing to top advisers. In addition, anyone donating to Steyer’s super PAC would risk being drawn into the fierce attacks that conservative groups are trying to mount on the billionaire’s credibility.
His credibility? Such as, perhaps, that Steyer made a lot of money in hydrocarbon-based energy before deciding to attack it? Steyer tried explaining on Monday how climate change transformed him, but it hasn’t done much to boost his standing so far.
The real problem is that almost no one cares about climate change in the midterm elections. Polling from both Politico and Gallup in May showed that the environment as a class of issues (of which climate change would be a subset) was the top priority for a whopping 3% of all Americans in one poll and 7% in another. Jobs and the economy, on the other hand, got the top spot from 38% in Gallup. Three times as many Democrats prioritized dysfunctional government over the environment. Running a midterm on climate change would effectively confirm that Democrats have completely lost touch with the electorate and are only talking to their narrow clique of elites, not exactly a winning message.
Plus, Steyer’s project suffers from one other big problem. Assuming that another $50 million keeps the Senate in Democratic hands, exactly what would that do for climate change? Democrats have controlled the upper chamber for eight years, and even when they rented out the Senate to Steyer had nothing to offer on the topic. Democrats controlled all of Congress for four years, two of which were in Obama’s first term in office. What did they do with that time? They imposed an unpopular command economy in the health insurance market and passed Dodd-Frank, and … that’s about it.
Perhaps, then, it’s a bit unfair to blame Steyer’s salesmanship. It’s easier to sell refrigerators to Eskimos than to make this sale.