TALLAHASSEE — A hedge fund billionaire-turned-environmentalist who is seeking to boost the political importance of climate change has his eye on knocking off Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
San Francisco-based NextGen Climate Action Committee last month gave $750,000 to its Florida committee, the first contribution in the state. On its website, Scott is listed as one of seven Republican candidates the group is targeting.
The group was founded by Tom Steyer, who built a $1.6 billion net worth as a hedge fund manager. He’s now using that personal wealth to bankroll campaigns against those he sees as bad for the environment.
“Floridians can’t afford to re-elect Gov. Rick Scott. As a climate denier who refuses to accept basic scientific fact, he has put Florida’s communities, infrastructure and economy directly in harm’s way,” said Suzanne Henkels, a NextGen spokeswoman.
“Maybe Tom Steyer didn’t get the memo that Charlie Crist’s commitment to the environment is all hot air,” Scott’s campaign responded Thursday. “After all, Charlie flew on a polluter’s private jet last week from Gainesville to Tallahassee (a two-hour drive), then hopped into a Prius to get to an event where he pretended to care about the environment.”
The chairman of the NextGen organization’s Florida political arm is Chris Fadeff, NextGen’s chief financial officer. Its political director is Joshua Romero, the former legislative assistant for state Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orlando.
NextGen also has received $100,000 from Barbara Stiefel, a Democratic donor from Coral Gables. This election cycle, she has given nearly $1 million in support of a constitutional amendment that would legalize medical marijuana and another that aims to boost conservation spending.
It is organized as a so-called “electioneering communication organization,” groups that are set up to buy television commercials and mail pieces. The group also will focus on a program designed to encourage voting by segments of the electorate, including Hispanics and the young, that don’t go to the polls during non-presidential elections.
The environment has become a higher-profile issue in Florida’s gubernatorial race in recent weeks.
After Scott declined to meet with 10 scientists who wanted to talk to him about climate change, the Crist campaign scheduled two meetings that were open to the press.
Those turned into a round of bad headlines, however, when Crist traveled between the events in a private jet owned by James Finch, a developer whose company has been fined by the state for water pollution.
NextGen has positioned itself as the counterweight to the Koch brothers, a set of billionaire businessmen who financially supported Republican candidates and causes usually opposed by environmental groups.
“We are using our resources to promote an interest that we believe will help our children, while the Koch brothers continue to deny basic science and promote an agenda that will benefit their economic self-interest,” Henkels said.
Steyer, the group’s founder, has faced questions about his environmental background.
Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that Steyer’s fund, Farallon Capital Management, spent millions funding coal projects across the globe. Even though he promised to divest from those projects, they will “generate tens of millions of tons of carbon pollution for years, if not decades, to come,” the newspaper reported.
In an op-ed he wrote responding to the Times’ story, he said he left the firm because his philosophy on the environment changed.
“I could not reconcile my personal values with managing a fund that by mandate is invested in all sectors of the global economy, including fossil fuels,” he wrote in the piece, which was published by Politico, a Washington-based news organization.
Other than Florida, the group will be paying for media buys in governor’s races in Maine and Pennsylvania, and U.S. Senate races in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and New Hampshire.
In its first foray into big state campaigns, the NextGen spent $11 million in the 2013 Virginia governor’s race to help Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeat Republican Ken Cuccinelli.