“The next step is to deal with buildings and really ramp up our efficiency in buildings,” Obama said. “If we had the same energy efficiency as Japan, we would cut our energy use by about 20 percent. That means we’d be taking a whole lot of carbon out of our atmosphere.”
Chris Lehane, one of Steyer’s political advisers and a former aide to both Bill Clinton and Al Gore, said Obama administration officials appreciate the fact that Steyer has not only been a generous financial supporter but also has combined his business and political acumen to score electoral wins.
“There are not many donors who have gone out there and been successful in the political world,” Lehane said.
Steyer, who made his initial fortune engaging in arbitrage, has employed unconventional tactics at times to achieve his goals. In 2010 he teamed up with former Reagan secretary of state George P. Shultz to defeat a proposition financed by Texas oil firms to reverse California’s law capping greenhouse gas emissions. The two men learned a month before the election that they were assured of victory. But rather than save the $10 million they still had on handfor the campaign, Steyer and Shultz decided to spend it so they could win by an even larger margin.
“We didn’t just want to beat it, we wanted to beat it big time,” Shultz said in an interview.
In 2012, Steyer targeted a handful of companies exempted from California taxes, spending $32 million on a ballot initiative toclose that loophole and funnel the money to energy efficiency and education initiatives. He convinced the firms directly affected by the change — General Motors, Kimberly-Clark, Chrysler, International Paper and Procter & Gamble — that their image would suffer if they fought it.
“It just blew me away that he was able to persuade these CEOs of major corporations to say, ‘Guys, we’re going to back away from this,’ ” said Art Pulaski, who heads the California Labor Federation.
Not all Californians are as pleased with Steyer’s efforts, even if they’re impressed by his record. Gino DiCaro, spokesman for the California Manufacturers & Technology Association, said Steyer’s push to wean the state off fossil fuels has raised the cost of manufacturing for its member companies.