After years of being outgunned by polluters and their allies, environmentalists have been celebrating the arrival of a savior: Tom Steyer, a Bay Area hedge-fund billionaire. Last year, he spent $11 million to help Democrat Terry McAuliffe get elected as Virginia governor, and millions more on anti-Keystone ads and the campaign to elect Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey to the Senate. And on Tuesday, The New York Times’ Nicholas Confessore reported, “He is rallying other deep-pocketed donors, seeking to build a war chest that would make his political organization, NextGen Climate Action, among the largest outside groups in the country, similar in scale to the conservative political network overseen by Charles and David Koch.”
The Koch brothers, naturally, are not sitting idly by as their enemies armor up. As Politico’s Ken Vogel wrote last month, “If the Koch brothers’ political operation seemed ambitious in 2010 or 2012, wait for what’s in store for 2014 and beyond. ... This year, the Kochs’ close allies are rolling out a new, more integrated approach to politics. That includes wading into Republican primaries for the first time to ensure their ideal candidates end up on the ticket.”
The problem for progressives, as Vogel’s story and others make clear, is that in the era of unlimited outside political spending, liberals will usually be outraised by conservatives. And environmentalists will be outraised by polluters.