Inside a green billionaire's Virginia crusade

November 11, 2013 0 Comments

Tom Steyer is shown. | AP Photo
Tom Steyer is shown. | AP Photo

Tom Steyer is Virginia’s $8 million guy.

The California billionaire invested almost which much from his individual fortune to create an illustration of Republican Ken Cuccinelli for his arch-conservative views found on the environment. The sum is much more than 3 instances the investment that’s been earlier reported, plus it almost paired what the Republican Governors Association, the biggest GOP outside spender, place into the Virginia governor’s race. It is a bit more funds, about a per-vote basis, than the famously prolific traditional donors Sheldon plus Miriam Adelson invested inside the 2012 presidential election.

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Steyer’s political committee, NextGen Climate Action, publicly entered the Virginia race inside August by paying to air a wave of tv advertisements yielded by Democratic Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe’s campaign. The spots blistered Cuccinelli for launching an research into the analysis escapades of the University of Virginia climate scientist.

(Also about POLITICO: Will Warsaw talks fuel a climate change pact?)

What unfolded inside the ensuing months was an extreme flood of spending within the coffers of the single donor determined to inject climate into a race inside that state knowledge plus transportation issues, along with a federal government shutdown, virtually absolutely played a more decisive character. Steyer paid for $3.1 million inside TV advertising, $1.2 million inside digital advertisements, 12 different pieces of campaign send, a field system which hit 62,000 homes about get-out-the-vote weekend plus even a Cuccinelli impersonator whom showed up at public occasions carrying a briefcase of mock cash to attack the Republican’s ethics.

During the final 3 months of the race, POLITICO had extensive behind-the-scenes access to Steyer’s shadow campaign. Along with all the small seven-figure sum Steyer invested inside a Massachusetts specialized election earlier this year, his Virginia campaign represents a down payment about a sustained effort to beat Republicans that question climate research — plus activate voters that need government action about climate change.

Indeed, Steyer plus his advisers state this really is just the beginning. He has established himself inside brief purchase because the nearest thing Democrats need to the Adelsons or the even deeper-pocketed conservatives Charles plus David Koch. In additional words, an individual with basically boundless resources whom is determined to force change on politicians from the aggressive utilize of his checkbook.

(Also about POLITICO: Full power plus environment plan coverage)

Steyer told POLITICO following McAuliffe’s 2.5-percentage-point win which he didn’t consider his spending excessive inside the minimum.

“One of my neighbors whom is a Democratic governor plus knew what you invested mentioned, ‘I think we overspent about this campaign.’ However it turned out you didn’t,” Steyer mentioned. “We kept going with what you initially thought you required to do for the turnout, that was the complete objective.”

The Steyer procedure wasn’t truly the only environmentalist ensemble which played seriously inside Virginia: The Virginia League of Conservation Voters PAC as well as the Sierra Club both invested revenue plus manpower. Among the groups which cared regarding climate, nonetheless, Steyer’s was definitely the many extravagantly financed as well as the many ruthless.

(QUIZ: How perfectly are you aware Terry McAuliffe?)

The animated 56-year-old has displayed a flair for the theatrical inside his political activities: A enthusiast of cowboy Westerns that called his son for a character inside “Lonesome Dove,” Steyer challenged a Massachusetts Senate prospect last spring to denounce the Keystone XL pipeline by “high noon about Friday.” In Virginia, he paid to fly an airplane banner reading “Cuccinelli Says Go BYU” over an August sports game between UVA plus Brigham Young University.

In a memo distributed to possible financial supporters late inside the summer, Steyer’s top strategist, past Clinton White Home aide Chris Lehane, mentioned NextGen can build about its Virginia campaign by targeting numerous Senate plus gubernatorial races inside 2014 – plus then playing hard inside the 2016 presidential primaries.

“We like to establish a real presence inside the early states to impact the individuals plus create climate a top-tier problem, whereby individuals are forced to place forth comprehensive climate policies plus address the problem,” Lehane wrote.

The game plan

From the begin, Steyer’s campaign had 2 stated goals: electing Democrat Terry McAuliffe because the governor of Virginia, plus creating a case research for generating climate change an problem inside high-profile elections.

(Also about POLITICO: U.S. carbon emissions keep falling)

A 3rd, unstated objective has run by all Steyer’s political activities: turning a hedge fund trader within the Bay Area into a nationwide political figure. Most megadonors prize their confidentiality. However before Steyer’s team jumped into the Virginia race, it contacted POLITICO regarding providing exclusive access to NextGen’s escapades for a feature story following the election. In 2013, the towheaded, all-smiles Democratic financier has participated inside main profiles inside both The New Yorker plus Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

For all of the attention his political spending has earned him, Steyer himself took a comparatively hands-off attitude towards NextGen’s Virginia campaign, deferring to a roster of blue-chip consultants which included strategists within the TV fast GMMB, the send fast Mission Control plus voter-contact companies Grassroots Solutions plus Winning Connections.

One adviser likened Steyer to a “chairman of the board,” that sets big-picture objectives over he dictates operational decisions. During a see to Virginia inside early August, because his consultants urged him to move up his plans to fund TV advertisements inside the race, Steyer repeatedly mentioned he’d like to adhere to Lehane’s lead. “Have we asked Chris?” he asked at 1 meeting, shrugging: “I don’t think my opinion about this might be very smart or useful.”

(Also about POLITICO: Climate change hurts, report says)

Of course Steyer’s opinion, because his PR consultant Mike Casey reminded him, is of awesome result to the group he funds. And inside the big pic of the Virginia race, the onetime Obama campaign bundler handed down a limited well-defined directives to his team:

Win the race by turning out apathetic voters. Force climate change into the campaign plus seize a “mandate” found on the matter. And don’t simply depend about tv advertisements (“The entire thing about paid TV is we feel like you’re doing anything,” Steyer mused skeptically to POLITICO over the summer, before going about to create TV advertisements the biggest part of NextGen’s budget.)

From the outset, the challenge for Steyer’s strategists was to create climate piece of the Virginia conversation inside a technique which was relevant to voters inside an off-year election. NextGen commissioned a poll over the summer from Benenson Strategy Group which tested 2,500 voters to show a stark conclusion: Virginians care regarding climate, however, possibly not enough for the problem to turn them out singlehandedly inside a governor’s race.

To reach the voters Steyer sought to come out – Virginians that can have voted inside the 2012 presidential election or the 2009 governor’s race however, couldn’t be counted about to vote this year – pollster Amy Levin urged the billionaire to place climate inside terms which associated to the daily lives of Virginians. She recommended chatting regarding the effects of climate about asthma rates plus food costs, plus eschewing activist buzzwords like “climate denier” inside favor of the charge which Cuccinelli “denies simple research.”

(Also about POLITICO: Tom Steyer defends Terry McAuliffe’s green credentials)

Erin Lehane, the field marshal of the NextGen turnout system, place it inside these terms: “We’ve got to hit [voters] about a destination where they have an psychological reaction, plus their psychological reaction is to [the message], ‘This guy’s a wild guy plus we’ve got to do anything.’”

Nuking Cuccinelli

When the NextGen digital plus send advertisments ramped up inside September plus October, which kitchen-sink approach was instantly obvious, because the Steyer gang’s content tore at Cuccinelli about numerous issues with climate at the center. “From losing taxpayer revenue inside a failed suit against UVA considering he disagreed with their climate change analysis to opposing birth control, Ken Cuccinelli is from touch,” read 1 mailer which went out inside mid-September.

Multiple send pieces which went out inside mid-October noted not merely which Cuccinelli disputes climate research “even though NASA plus 98% of climate scientists agree that it must be a real risk,” they moreover mentioned he wants “to eliminate all types of birth control” plus desired to “let crooks, even those convicted of sexually abusing kids, buy guns at weapon shows.”

(QUIZ: How perfectly have you figured out Ken Cuccinelli?)

Digital advertisements explicitly appealed to voters that could not have considered themselves particularly climate-conscious. At a post-election briefing for Steyer about Wednesday, digital strategist Tara McGowan showcased a series of Internet advertisements beginning with all the text: “I’m no environmentalist …”

In every case, the sentence ended with anything like: “… however droughts are damaging my farm” or “… however research doesn’t lay.”

All the while, Erin Lehane’s turnout procedure was going door to door, very inside Virginia’s coastal Hampton Roads location plus about six university campuses throughout the state, hammering away at the content which Cuccinelli is an extremist found on the environment plus, perfectly, everything else.

By the finish of September, they were sending out 50 canvassers a day over the Virginia coastline, recruiting military veterans plus African-Americans representative of the neighborhood community. By the finish of the race, the field component of NextGen had gathered 10,000 pledge cards about university campuses — asking voters to commit to participating about Nov. 5 — plus hit 62,000 doorways inside the days instantly before the vote.

(Also about POLITICO: 2013: Year of the liberal billionaire)

“We are not speaking to individuals with a climate-exclusive content,” Lehane explained about Sept. 25. “We’re suggesting, this man is not representative considering he denies research plus then you form of follow it up with, ‘He opposes all types of birth control plus he does this plus he does which.’”

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