Billionaire to share polling data about oil pipeline with Senate Democrats


Businessman Tom Steyer listens during a meeting to announce the launch of a group called Virginians for Clean Government at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., on Sept. 25. (Steve Helber/AP)

Climate activist and billionaire Tom Steyer, who hopes to funnel as much as $100 million into the 2014 elections, will tell Senate Democrats on Wednesday night that they can use opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline to bring voters over to their side this fall, according to one of his advisers.

Steyer is hosting a “Blue Green Council Dinner” fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee at his San Francisco home Wednesday.

He will share data from a poll he commissioned that shows Americans care whether the oil shipped through the pipeline will remain in the United States and the extent to which Chinese investors stand to gain from the project’s construction.

The aide shared information about Steyer’s activities on the condition of anonymity because he will not publicly release the poll results until Thursday.

A slew of influential Senate Democrats will attend the session, including Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.) and Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), according to a copy of the invitation obtained by The Washington Post. Three others who are up for reelection this year — Mark Udall (Colo.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) — will also be there, the invitation says.

The fundraiser is being co-hosted by two couples from the Bay Area who are prominent environmentalists: Susie Tompkins Buell and Mark Buell and Lorna and Wade Randlett.

The political action committee Steyer founded, NextGen Climate Action, has aired a television ad suggesting that pipeline sponsor TransCanada has misled Americans because much of the oil headed to Gulf Coast refineries through the pipeline will ultimately be shipped overseas.

The New York Times first reported Tuesday that Steyer is planning to spend at least $50 million of his own fortune on state and federal races this year. He aims to raise another $50 million from other Democratic donors.

Steyer has spent more than $50 million on climate-related election activities in four states — California, Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington.

League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski, who meets regularly with Steyer to discuss campaign strategies, said environmentalists welcomed his willingness to inject climate change into the public discourse.

“We are incredibly grateful and excited, because we need more environmental money in politics,” he said.

Later this week Steyer will appear on a panel at the Democratic Governors Association during which he will urge states to move ahead with greenhouse-gas regulation through regional partnerships, like one in the Northeast, rather than wait for congressional action.

NextGen will focus as much on gubernatorial and state legislative races as on Senate races, according to those familiar with Steyer’s plans. He is likely to support Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), who seeks to replace retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). Braley is an outspoken proponent of addressing global warming.

Juliet Eilperin is a White House correspondent for The Washington Post, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.
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