- - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tom Steyer’s crusade against global warming has been praised as an altruistic effort to “save the planet.” The billionaire hedge fund owner has pledged to raise $100 million in campaign funds over the next few months to save the Senate for the Democrats, presumably because the earth can’t possibly survive without Harry Reid at the helm.

Earmark records suggest Mr. Steyer’s government activism isn’t all that selfless. His investment in politicians has been paying off for him and his business associates in a big way. Spending $100 million is pocket change compared to the $1 billion in taxpayer benefits Mr. Steyer’s past and present companies have taken advantage of over the past decade.

Mr. Steyer and his immediate family have given more than $1.1 million in donations to Democratic candidates since 1990, including to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat and former House speaker, who has become one of Mr. Steyer’s prime benefactors. She has lavished government grants upon projects for the benefit of Farallon Capital, a firm Mr. Steyer founded in 1986 and ran up until the end of 2012.

In 2004, Farallon acquired 2 million square feet of vacant space at Mission Bay, a neighborhood in San Francisco created from an abandoned rail yard. It was to be rebuilt with housing units, state-of-the-art biotech research facilities and more. Farallon created a pair of spin-off companies to manage the purchase, sale and leasing of properties.


The city of San Francisco chipped in with taxpayer dollars to fund the redevelopment as part of a “public-private partnership” with the Farallon subsidiaries. By 2006, Mrs. Pelosi decided to have the federal government provide $28 million in earmarks for a light-rail project in Mission Bay. The next year, an additional $25 million was earmarked for port redevelopment. In 2012, Mrs. Pelosi later landed $10 million in stimulus grants. “Of course, since President Obama became president, we passed the Recovery Act, so much has happened here,” Mrs. Pelosi said at the time.

The big delivery came when Mrs. Pelosi helped land $942 million in federal funds to provide a direct transportation link between Mission Bay and downtown San Francisco. Farallon has since sold off a number of its properties at Mission Bay, converting the benefits of the development support it has received from the government into cold, hard cash. Since 2009, Farallon has spent more than $570,000 on lobbyists in Washington to advance the firm’s transportation and Mission Bay interests. Not a bad return on its investment in government.

The Mission Bay scheme is far from Mr. Steyer’s only crony effort. The entrepreneur has also been on the “green energy” gravy train, investing in inefficient power sources, such as wind and solar, that win billions in taxpayer subsidies.

This offers an important lesson. When wealthy industrialists push schemes in the name of environmentalism, it’s essential to ask whether there’s an angle being played. While keeping control of the Senate in Democratic hands may be good for Mr. Steyer’s portfolio, it’s not likely to be as good for the pocketbooks of ordinary Americans.