It’s official: California billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer is working with Democrats to take control of the Colorado state legislature this year.
The left-wing billionaire – who spent $8.5 million in Colorado during the 2014 election – has recently ramped up spending on field organizing and made small personal donations in four key state legislative races, according to federal and state campaign finance records.
The Colorado field spending from Steyer’s political action committee, NextGen Climate, totals more than $190,000 so far this election cycle. Steyer himself made three personal contributions – $200 each – to Democrats in key state Senate races: Rachel Zenzinger (SD-19), Jenise May (SD-25) and Daniel Kagan (SD-26). Zenziger is running to unseat an incumbent Republican, while May and Kagan are running for open seats currently held by retiring Democrats.
Today, Republicans have a one-seat majority in the state Senate, so Democrats must win all three of these key contests in November to take control of the chamber. Since they already control the state House by three seats – and the governor’s mansion – a new majority in the Senate would mean one-party rule under Democrats in Colorado. But Steyer wants a bigger majority in the state House as well – he’s also given $200 to Democratic candidate Tony Exum (HD-17) who is running to unseat another incumbent Republican.
Steyer’s candidate contributions and new field spending follow huge investments in research and polling in Colorado. Over the past six months, this column has tracked more than $793,000 in spending on these services from the California billionaire. That’s a 57 percent increase in Steyer’s research and polling budget from the 2014 election cycle, when he spent more than $8 million trying to save former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D).
“It’s an extraordinary amount of money for research and polling, which is typically a modest percentage of your overall campaign spending,” pollster and political analyst Floyd Ciruli said in an interview last month. “He’s getting into the granular kind of research that could be used in different races up and down the ballot, including the state legislature and congressional seats.”
“If you’ve heard of the Blueprint, this could be the Greenprint,” Ciruli said.
“The Blueprint” was an effort launched by left-wing donors and political organizations in the mid-2000s to hand control of the Colorado General Assembly to Democrats, using millions of dollars of coordinated spending from outside groups. The same strategy that delivered control of the state legislature to Democrats was later used to flip U.S. House and Senate seats and even the governor’s mansion from red to blue.
“With that amount of money, he’s looking for vertical control of the ballot, taking over the state for his environmental agenda,” Ciruli said. “And it’s a pretty extreme agenda. It is anti-hydrocarbon, it is anti-growth in general.”
While using his fortune to campaign for Democrats across the country, Steyer is also a huge supporter of fringe environmental groups. For example, Steyer is a donor and key ally of 350.org and its founder, Bill McKibben. More than any other group, 350.org is behind the “keep it in the ground” campaign, a broad coalition of environmental activist groups seeking to ban the production of fossil fuels – oil, natural gas and coal.
McKibben and 350.org have also worked with Steyer on a related campaign – fossil fuel divestment – which lobbies universities, pension funds and others to dump any investments with a connection to oil, gas or coal. In fact, fossil fuel divestment has emerged as a key issue in the battle for control of the University of Colorado Board of Regents this year between Democrat Alice Madden and Republican Heidi Ganahl.
At the same time, 350.org is actively supporting anti-fracking ballot measures that would make oil and natural gas development in Colorado practically impossible. McKibben has even bragged about his plans to “kill” the “zombie” fossil fuel industry by “driving stakes through the heart of one project after another.” And both Steyer and McKibben support the effort, led by a group of liberal state attorneys general, to silence critics of their environmental agenda.
In effect, Steyer and his activist allies want to wipe out the vast majority of America’s existing energy sources and force people to use much more expensive and much less reliable alternatives, such as wind turbines, solar panels and electric cars.
This agenda is so extreme that other Democrats have pushed back hard against it. President Obama’s Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has called it “naïve” and the blue-collar wing of the Democratic Party has gone much, much further.
“[Steyer’s] vision of leaving oil, natural gas, and other fossil fuels in the ground kills jobs, drives up energy costs, and threatens to strangle our economy,” the Laborers International Union of North America recently warned. “As a hedge-fund billionaire, he may not feel the pain of such self-righteous, patronizing and damaging policies, but our members, and all American families, do.”
Through his outside spending and a series of symbolic contributions to individual candidates, Steyer has tipped his hand. Putting Democrats in the White House and in Congress isn’t enough for the California billionaire. He wants to impose his anti-energy views on Colorado – a major energy-producing state – and therefore needs Democrats in full control of the state legislature.
But where will that leave the state’s working families, the very people Colorado Democrats claim to be fighting for? The trade unions have already given us the answer: No place good.
Simon Lomax is an associate energy policy analyst with the Independence Institute and a consultant who advises pro-business groups. From 2004 to 2012, he was a news reporter covering energy and environmental policy in Washington, D.C. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.