Politics can’t solve everything. Neither can money. But Tom Steyer, a powerful Democratic Party supporter with deep pockets, doesn’t seem to get that. The ultra-wealthy, hedge-fund manager has begun a political war that has rocked the Democratic Party on the issue of climate change. How? By insisting on funneling his billions into political contests on the basis of whether or not candidates support the environment.
This has had such a drastic effect on Democratic candidates across the country that Gary Peters, a Democratic candidate running for the U.S. Senate in Michigan — the automotive capital of the U.S., mind you — is actually making climate change the center of his platform. And he’s winning!
Despite the seeming success of Steyer’s tactics, is he really helping? Not really. In the first place, the selectiveness of his contributions is causing division within the ranks of Democrats. They will race to the left on climate change in primary races to please Steyer — and his checkbook — only to become more centrist as they move into the general elections in order to compete with Republican candidates for independent and undecided voters.
Even in states like California where Democrats “hold an almost insurmountable majority,” Steyer’s targeted financial campaigns will only lead to broken promises later on when Democrats must attempt to create legislation in Congress that is bipartisan and broad-based.
Besides causing problems for future decision-makers, Steyer is also indirectly causing problems for current ones. As of late, Congress has become factionalized and partisan to the point where no work can get done. This includes stalled funding for all types of projects, including research on climate change and protection measures for endangered species. Steyer’s tactics would not solve this problem of stalemate; they would actually make it worse.
Because he would be sending people to Congress with climate change reform on their mind, there would be little room for compromise. More polarization would result as Steyer’s Democrats would try to work towards keeping their campaign promises to voters regarding the environment, while their Republican opponents would resist that kind of legislation, either for political points with voters or due to policy differences. Thus, Steyer’s method of funding candidates to help with climate change reform would become counterintuitive, as nothing was done on the issue.
So how to fix the problems with Steyer’s approach? Although his efforts at climate change reform are laudable, I have to say that he’s not really looking in the right direction. Why not pour all that money, all those millions of dollars that he has spent so far on massive campaign contributions, into research and into targeted solutions to the climate change problem?
His contributions would definitely be welcome, and he would have a lot of different opportunities to choose from: alternative fuel research, infrastructure innovations, and sustainable transportation options are all areas where funding is desperately needed and is often provided by private donors instead of the federal government. This is especially true here at ASU, where Steyer’s contributions could be put to very good use year-round, not just in election cycles.
In truth, Steyer has every right to spend however much of his money he wants on candidates for political office, especially due to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on the subject. However, if he really wanted to make a difference, Steyer would spend his millions on concrete and solid research-and-development solutions to the problem of climate change rather than on fickle and changeable politicians.
He would reach out to the everyday people who are making big differences quietly, rather than the big and famous politicians who are all talk but little to no action, who take his money and then don’t enact any change. I just hope he realizes that before all his money has been wasted.
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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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