A Billionaire’s Deep Pockets Come With a Big Catch

NYT FDCoral Davenport 7/24/2015

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Good Friday morning from Washington, where inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive information on a private email account. And while candidates typically approach donors to make their pitch, one billionaire has a single litmus test to earn his support: climate change.

Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmentalist who emerged as the single biggest individual political donor in the 2014 midterm elections, is ramping up his efforts to make climate change a major issue for candidates in 2016.

On Friday, Mr. Steyer’s advocacy group, NextGen Climate Action, will announce that for a 2016 candidate to receive its financial backing, he or she must pledge to enact an energy policy that would lead to the generation of half the nation’s electricity from renewable or zero-carbon sources by 2030 – more than tripling the current use of such sources – and 100 percent from clean sources by 2050.

“We will call on candidates to lay out policies that will get us to this goal,” Mr. Steyer said in an interview. “That’s the hurdle candidates have to get over to win our support.”

Mr. Steyer declined to say how much he planned to spend in the 2016 campaign, but a spokeswoman for NextGen Climate Action said he intended to “double down.” Mr. Steyer spent $74 million in the 2014 midterm elections, donating $67 million to NextGen Climate Action, on a campaign intended to reward candidates who embrace climate change as a major issue, and to punish those who question or deny the established science of human-caused climate change.

He also declined to lay out a specific strategy for pushing candidates to make the energy commitments, but his campaign appears aimed at urging Mrs. Clinton to embrace them. Among Democrats, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Martin O’Malley have already cited ambitious climate-change agendas. While Mrs. Clinton has said that she intends to focus on climate change as a central issue, she has yet to lay out a specific policy. Most of the Republican contenders do question or deny the established science.

Mr. Steyer’s 2014 campaign had mixed results: Of the seven Senate and governors’ races in which NextGen Climate spent money on candidates, three of them won.

The group has field operations in Iowa, Florida and New Hampshire, and plans to begin running television, radio and digital ads and conduct outreach campaigns in those states in the coming weeks.