It’s right out of “Brewster’s Millions.” A rich guy quickly blows through $174 million and in the end, walks away with nothing to show for it. That’s the strange but true story of hedge fund billionaire-turned green activist Tom Steyer.
After making his fortune from investments that include some of the planet’s most environmentally unsound operations, Mr. Steyer said he experienced a “Road to Damascus” moment and repented by becoming “Daddy Greenbucks” to radical environmentalists and their elected champions.
In 2014, after boasting that he would make climate change the top campaign issue, he spent nearly $75 million, mostly from his own deep pockets, making him the election season’s largest single donor.
Politico and others criticized his ads as “super weird” and “bizarre.” One received “Four Pinocchios” from The Washington Post fact-checker for relying on “speculation, not facts, to make insinuations and assertions not justified by reality.”
Surprisingly, the ads did not even mention climate change. That may have reflected its significant plunge as a voter priority, from 37 percent in November 2013 to just 28 percent by September 2014.
However, the omission may also have reflected the fact that Mr. Steyer’s deep pockets were lined mostly by coal money. As Left Exposed investigative reporter Ron Arnold notes, Mr. Steyer founded the hedge fund firm Farallon Capital Management, personally oversaw unprecedented investments in Asian and Australian coal mines and coal-fired power plants, and amassed a $1.6-billion personal fortune.
He also became a major Obama campaign financial bundler and gained easy access to John Podesta and other senior White House officials.
But when the 2014 votes were tallied, most of the candidates he had supported went down in flames.
Undeterred, and after insisting that “there is too much emphasis on money in politics,” Mr. Steyer plunked down $100 million during the 2016 campaigns — again becoming the biggest single donor, far ahead of the League of Conservation Voters ($45 million to Big Green candidates), George Soros and other friends of the left.
How did his “investments” pay off this time? He championed a successful California ballot measure hiking tobacco taxes, and a few of his favored candidates won their elections. But overall, 2016 was a disaster.
President-elect Donald Trump won more than 90 percent of America’s counties and county equivalents. Democrats gained just two U.S. Senate seats and six in the House. During the Obama-Steyer era, Democrats lost 919 state legislative seats nationwide. In 2017, Republicans will control 33 governorships — and legislative and executive branches in 25 states, versus five for Democrats.
His college efforts also fizzled. Despite Mr. Steyer’s record spending for voter “recruiting” campaigns on a hundred campuses, Mr. Trump won 1 out of 3 millennial votes. Their turnout for Hillary Clinton was lower than it had been for President Obama in 2012.
In a further humiliation, his efforts to make climate change a top issue reached epic joke status in October: A Chapman University poll revealed that more Americans are afraid of clowns (42 percent) than climate change (32 percent).
Indeed, Gallup and other polls have consistently found that global warming ranked dead last in surveys of voter concerns, and even in surveys of their environmental concerns. This after Mr. Steyer spent millions and the Obama administration squandered billions of taxpayer dollars to convince Americans that they fossil fuel use is causing unmitigated weather and climate disasters.
Outside of the elections, Mr. Steyer supported liberal state attorneys general and their campaign to prosecute, intimidate and silence businesses, think tanks, scientists and other experts who disagree with the “dangerous man-made climate change” thesis. That effort has largely collapsed, as the targets ferociously fought for their First Amendment rights.
His efforts to convince universities to divest from oil and natural gas stocks have also stalled. Ironically, it was Yale students who first exposed his Asian coal interests, and Stanford University — where he is an alumnus and member of the Board of Trustees — schooled Mr. Steyer in ethics and economics, announcing earlier this year that it would not purge its fossil fuel holdings.
New York University, Cambridge University and other high-profile schools have likewise said “no” to divestment. So have more than 99 percent of the world’s higher learning institutions.
Mr. Steyer’s balloon is now so deflated that he said publicly after Mrs. Clinton’s loss that he will likely not run for governor of California. That’s surprising, as he has dreamed of doing so at least since 2003, amid the Gray Davis recall election.
A more likely explanation is that he read independent polling results released Nov. 15. They show Mr. Steyer trailing far behind other hypothetical candidates in California’s gubernatorial race, with an embarrassing 5 percent of the likely vote. Apparently, even home state voters do not buy his policies, trust him or like him personally.
Looking beyond 2016, Mr. Steyer vows that money will be no object in railing against Mr. Trump’s policies. “We have always been willing to do whatever is necessary,” he has said, and will be “doubling down.” The Portland and Dakota Access Pipeline riots underscore what he means.
Given his odd political journey, perhaps he should find another green hobby — like gardening. After all, increasing atmospheric levels of plant-fertilizing carbon dioxide are helping plants grow faster, better and with less water.
• Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT.org), and the author of “Eco-Imperialism: Green power — Black death” (Merril Press, 2010).