Arguably one of the most influential donors during this election season is a San Francisco billionaire who prefers a worn-in canvas bag to a briefcase and zips around in a hybrid Honda Accord. Tom Steyer, the San Francisco hedge fund manager-turned-environmental activist, tops the Washington Post’s list of the biggest individual donors. He’s funneled more money into campaigns than any other donor on the list, which is mostly dominated by Republicans, some of whom made their money as energy investors or real estate magnates.
Over the past few years, Steyer has been tapping into his fortune to go after climate-change deniers and candidates who supported the building of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Now leading up to the November 2016 election, he’s setting in motion his next big political power play: The 58-year-old has aligned himself with millennials, a group that has potential to become the largest voting demographic and whose members are especially eager to champion climate change values. Through his Super PAC, NextGen Climate, Steyer is planning a massive get-out-the-vote drive.
He’s pumping $25 million into the voter mobilization effort that will mostly target seven swing states. With a network of student leaders and volunteers, the goal is to get out the youth vote in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Nevada, Illinois, and Colorado. In an upcoming TV ad blitz in his own home state, Steyer takes aim at Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz. The ad shows clips of the presidential candidates downplaying climate change before Steyer segues into a call of action, encouraging viewers to register to vote.
Steyer has been warning that rising carbon dioxide levels, the destructive output from burning fossil fuels, are a ticking time bomb.
"There will be droughts, there will be floods, there will be oceans rising," he told us in our reported feature. "So there's going to be hundreds of millions of people with no water. Do you know what people with no water will do?”
While Steyer’s NextGen Climate group hasn’t endorsed any congressional or presidential candidates as of yet, it has challenged politicians to outline how they would achieve hitting a 50 percent clean energy goal by 2030. The group’s longer-term goal is to have a pathway to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.
The number of registered millennials has almost tripled since 2008, growing from 17.2 million to 53 million, according to NextGen Climate. Transitioning to mostly clean or renewable energy by 2013 tops the millennial agenda, second only to requiring background checks for all gun owners.