If you pay even casual attention to politics, you know the name Tom Steyer. If you don't, or if you need a refresher, Steyer is the California billionaire who is pouring tens of millions of his own money into midterm races, with an eye toward electing a Congress that will go to the mat in support of legislation addressing climate change. We've written about Steyer before, pointing out, among other things, that several of the candidates in which his group NextGen Climate Action has endorsed were already likely to win.
At the Huffington Post, Kate Sheppard outlines this new realm of environmental largesse. "Between Steyer's pledged $50 million and another $25 million that the League of Conservation Voters plans to spend this year," Sheppard writes, "green PACs are on pace to spend as much or more than the largest independent groups spent in 2010." Jeff Gohringer of the League of Conservation Voters told Sheppard that "we need more environmental money in politics. We're never going to outspend the other side, but more resources means our message is being heard by more voters across the country."
What's remarkable is just how dramatically green groups have been outspent over the past 25 years. The Center for Responsive Politics tracks spending from green organizations and from the energy industry. And in the dollar wars, it's no contest. The recent surge in spending from environmental groups brings their 2014 spending to the same levels energy companies laid out in the 1990 election cycle.
2014 isn't over yet, of course. More spending is to come, so these numbers will go up -- as will the last points on both of those lines. And the lines don't include outside spending from PACs affiliated with the energy or environmental organizations, which is a big blind spot. What's not shown includes groups like NextGen and the LCV PAC, but also the various organizations linked to, say, Koch Industries. But, by this metric, environmental groups are getting outspent in 2014 by about 3-to-1, versus 9-to-1 in 2012 -- and 51-to-1 in 2000.
Now the punchline to a joke that you either find very amusing or not amusing at all. When you compare spending by environmental and energy groups on lobbying members of Congress, the difference is stunning.
Energy groups have outspent green groups on lobbying by a factor of 20-to-1, consistently, since 1998.
It's almost certain that green groups will never outspend energy companies. But the scale of the extent to which they've been outspent, for decades, goes a long way toward explaining the gulf in political power each sees on Capitol Hill.