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Memo to Tom Steyer: It takes more than money to win elections

In May, NextGen Climate -- funded primarily by billionaire Tom Steyer -- announced the races it intended to target in the 2014 elections. The group's goal was to impose some sort of cost on elected officials who reject the science demonstrating the existence of climate change. It targeted races, mostly for the Senate, in Iowa, Colorado, Florida, and New Hampshire.

Steyer quickly became a bogeyman for conservatives, serving for the right the role that the Koch brothers play on the left. His investment of tens of millions of dollars (the original goal of as much as $100 million wasn't met; NextGen has spent about $60 million to date) was attacked as the sort of greenback pollution that people fear has come to dominate modern politics.

Over the course of the cycle, NextGen Climate did typical campaign things: run ads, hold events, and so on. The ads were, at times, weird, swaying between attempts to go viral and focusing specifically on the issues of climate change that were NextGen's mandate. But subjective opinions of the ads aside, did they work? Was the money well spent?

When I wrote about NextGen in May, I noted the current Real Clear Politics polling average in each race. Here's how the polling has shifted in each race, with red bars indicating movement in favor of the Republicans who NextGen hopes to defeat.

In only one race have the polls moved against the targeted candidate: Terri Lynn Land's Senate bid in Michigan, which has essentially collapsed. In every other race, there's been movement toward the Republican that NextGen targeted.

This doesn't mean that NextGen has had no effect. Races have moved in the Republicans' direction nationally over the six months since NextGen announced its targets. And some of NextGen's targets might still lose, like Republican Scott Brown in New Hampshire.

What the movement does mean is that the always-naive idea of rich people being able to buy elections isn't quite as clear cut as some might have thought. (Nor, we'll note, is celebrity a sure-fire way to influence politics, as the Times pointed out Monday morning.)

Did Tom Steyer and NextGen succeed in raising the issue of climate change in places that might not otherwise have heard it? Did the group shave enough momentum from its targets to keep them from crossing the finish line in first? Maybe and maybe. But if you have $100 million burning a hole in your pocket and want to win some elections, be warned: It's not that easy.