Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

MAIN: Steyer’s Cash Buys Mixed Message

Those who have benefited most from the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling, which allowed unlimited — and often undisclosed — contributions to and spending by political action committees, have been the extremely wealthy. According to the Sunlight Foundation, 28 percent of all disclosed political contributions in the 2012 election cycle came from .01 percent of the population — just over 30,000 people. (Disclosure: I worked as an intern for Sunlight in the summer of 2012.) And this percentage only counts the disclosed contributions; “issue advocacy” groups like Crossroads GPS that do not classify themselves as “political committees” spent over $300 million of the $1.3 billion spent in the 2012 elections without having to tell the FEC the source of a single dollar.

Because of the generally pro-business priorities of those with enough money to donate millions to these organizations, they tend to support Republican candidates — or, rather, oppose Democratic ones. FEC filings reveal that two-thirds of the aforementioned $300 million in dark money was spent on ads, letters and other material attacking Democrats.

Charles and David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, which advocates for decreased environmental regulation among other libertarian-related issues, is the most notorious of the outside-money organizations, reportedly planning to spend a staggering $125 million in the 2014 election cycle, according to an investors’ memo obtained by Politico. While the specter of the Kochs haunts left-leaning Americans (and, I suppose, all who value the sanctity of the democratic process), there is no comparable figure for the left. George Soros is frequently brought up as a boogeyman, but his spending has been comparably scant since the 2004 election. The closest thing Democrats have to a Sheldon Adelson on their side is investor Tom Steyer, who has pledged $50 million this election to aid candidates vowing to combat climate change.

A recent article in The New York Times Magazine reveals that Steyer imagines his super PAC, NextGen Climate Action Committee, as a hub for climate-change-focused donors to pool their resources. But FEC filings show that it’s still a one-man show; of the $15,006,778 received by the committee in August, $15 million came from Steyer himself. NextGen Climate, for all intents and purposes, is Tom Steyer turning his money into political speech, as encouraged by Citizens United and derided by those who oppose the verdict and the right-wing oligarchs who have abused it.

But to view Steyer and the Kochs as equivalent is unequivocally incorrect. That we have allowed the mere existence of climate change to become a political issue is a disgrace, something that future generations will look upon as a disastrous triumph of greed, selfishness and hubris.

Those who are willfully ignorant of the issue or who abuse their authority to mislead others about it for personal gain deserve nothing but the unrepentant rage of all those who must suffer as a result. Climate change is apocalyptic stuff, but the current political discourse, created and maintained by people like Charles and David Koch, relegates it to the same level as something like a tax deduction.

For taking on this ignominy in a committed fashion, Steyer deserves a good deal of applause. The manner in which he is doing so, however, reveals the failings of the system in which Steyer decided to work. For one, his preferred treatment of the issue (as well as that of most of the liberals NextGen Climate supports), implementing an extensive cap-and-trade system, is by no means an ideal method of curbing climate change. It adheres to the neoliberal doctrine of inappropriately applying market-based solutions to problems too dire to treat as commodities, and its application in the European Union, where it has been in place for nearly a decade, has been ineffective at best, failing to hold polluters to standards stringent enough to effect real, long-term change.

Furthermore, by choosing to take advantage of the opportunities granted to the wealthy by the Citizens United decision, Steyer is entrenching the undemocratic norms it created. He told The New York Times that his decision to play the same game as the opposition was necessary, as he needed to work “in the real world, the way the real world works.”

Deceptively pragmatic, Steyer’s rationale ignores the fact that he, as a politically connected billionaire, is more capable than just about anybody else to shape “the real world.” He chose — that is, he was not forced — to mimic the tactics of the Kochs.

Fighting government inaction on climate change clearly has popular support; the People’s Climate March, held in New York in late September, boasted more than 400,000 participants. For Tom Steyer, however, it seems the organized, harnessed and democratic power of 400,000 people doesn’t match the $50 million in advertisements of one.

Hunter MainHunter Main is a senior in the College. Left Behind appears every other Tuesday.

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