- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) — A political action group formed by billionaire California environmentalist Tom Steyer announced Wednesday it will spend money to support Democratic candidates in at least two key legislative races in Washington state.

NextGen Climate said its support would be focused on two Senate contests: one in Pierce County between Democratic Rep. Tami Green and incumbent Republican Sen. Steve O'Ban, and the other in King County between the Senate’s main Republican budget writer, Sen. Andy Hill, and Democratic challenger Matt Isenhower.

Those two races are among a handful that could decide control of the 49-member Senate, which is currently controlled by a coalition of 24 Republicans and two Democrats.

NextGen Climate did not rule out involvement in other races in Washington state, and the group also said it would be working in Oregon on get-out-the-vote efforts on two legislative races.

In a press release, the group said its strategy was to support legislative candidates in Washington and Oregon who are ready to take action to address climate change.

NextGen Climate says it will work with Washington Conservation Voters and Oregon League of Conservation Voters to ensure both states have a pro-climate majority in the legislatures in 2015.

In Washington state, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has made climate change a main focus of his administration, and he has convened a task force to recommend ways to cap carbon emissions, such as a carbon tax or cap and trade system. Those recommendations are likely to shape legislation he requests in the 2015 legislative session.

Last week, Steyer gave $1 million to NextGen Climate Action Committee, the political action committee that he set up in Washington state. That same week, the committee gave $50,000 to the Kennedy Fund, a political committee that supports Democrats in state Senate races.

Brent Ludeman, executive director of Senate Republican Campaign Committee, said the group is “trying to buy the Legislature to support Tom Steyer’s agenda.”

Currently, Republicans hold a significant fundraising advantage in the two Washington races NextGen is targeting.

So far, the race between Hill and Isenhower in the Senate’s 45th District is the most expensive, with Hill already raising more than $570,000. Isenhower has raised nearly $260,000.

In the 28th Senate District, O'Ban has raised more than $475,000 compared to Green’s approximately $200,000.

Green said that NextGen Climate’s interest in her race was good news, considering her current financial disadvantage.

“It makes me a little sad that we have so much money in politics, but if my opposition is going to have that much money, it helps me level the playing field,” she said.

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