DENVER — It didn't take long for San Francisco environmentalist-billionaire Tom Steyer to become a campaign issue after unveiling this week his hand-picked slate of seven Republican candidates he is vowing to defeat in November.
Mr. Steyer, a former hedge-fund manager turned climate-change hard-liner whose fortune stems in part from investments in the fossil-fuel industry, has pledged to donate $50 million and raise $50 million on behalf of the four Democratic Senate and three gubernatorial candidates.
Republicans Thursday were quick to train the focus on Mr. Steyer himself. One of his GOP targets, former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, released a campaign ad Thursday saying that her opponent, Democratic Rep. Gary C. Peters, "is bankrolled by billionaire radical Tom Steyer."
"Peters also supports Steyer's call to kill the Keystone pipeline," said the ad.
In addition to Mr. Peters, the other Democratic Senate candidates benefiting from Mr. Steyer's NextGen Action PAC are Rep. Bruce L. Braley of Iowa, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado. GOP candidates in his sights include Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, and New Hampshire GOP Senate hopeful Scott Brown.
Rep. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Mr. Udall's Republican opponent, fired off a salvo Thursday blasting the liberal billionaire for his involvement in an effort from the late 1990s to divert water from Colorado's rural San Luis Valley to urban areas like Denver.
"Coloradans need no introduction to Tom Steyer," Gardner campaign spokesman Alex Siciliano said. "As one of his biggest supporters, Senator Udall must immediately condemn Steyer's past water-grabbing efforts in this state."
Meanwhile, the website Complete Colorado released a story and video late Wednesday showing Mr. Steyer speaking at a meeting of governors and philanthropists in October at which he describes green energy as a "chance to make a lot of money."
"We have a chance to lead in the world in the way that we generate and use energy. It's a big business opportunity. It's a chance to make a lot of money," Mr. Steyer says in the video.
James Davis, spokesman for the conservative group Freedom Partners, accused Mr. Steyer of attempting to protect his own fortune by increasing regulations on the energy business in the name of climate change. Mr. Steyer founded, but is no longer affiliated with Farallon Capital Management.
"Tom Steyer's investments at Farallon have lined his pockets with millions of dollars from the foreign coal industry. Now he wants to burden the American people with new energy regulations to protect his current green energy investments," said Mr. Davis. "He's already attempting to buy the votes of Senate Democrats on Keystone, which will cost America thousands of good paying jobs."
Mr. Steyer, a staunch opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, has refused to back Senate Democrats who support the project, even those in tough races like Louisiana Sen. Mary L. Landrieu and Arkansas Sen. Mark L. Pryor.
Polls indicate a majority of voters support building the pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama has been pressed for five years to make a decision on the project, which requires White House approval because it crosses an international border.
"Poll after poll shows voters are focused on the economy, jobs and health care. The fact that Democrats like Tom Steyer are so out of touch doesn't bode well for their chances in November," said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kurkowski. "It's also interesting that they seem to be giving up on states like Arkansas and Louisiana and putting resources in states like Colorado showing the Republican map continues to grow."
Mr. Steyer's NextGen Action also plans to support Democrats in gubernatorial contests in Florida, Maine and Pennsylvania.
"This is the year, in our view, that we are able to demonstrate that you can use climate, you can do it well, you can do it in a smart way, to win political races," Steyer adviser Chris Lehane told CNN.
Mr. Steyer is scheduled to host a May 28 fundraiser at his San Francisco home featuring Vice President Joe Biden, the billionaire's second Democratic fundraiser this year. The vice president is appearing at a May 27 fundraiser in Denver for Mr. Udall.
The liberal billionaire is often compared to the industrialist Koch brothers, wealthy campaign donors who support Republican candidates and conservative causes.
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.