As the clock ticks down to Election Day, Colorado business leaders are paying close attention to down-ballot races. The state legislature, where Democrats currently control the House and Republicans have a one-seat Senate majority, is their top concern, according to the Denver Business Journal. And one of the key players in the battle for control of the state legislature is California billionaire and anti-fossil fuel activist Tom Steyer.
“This is absolutely the most critical thing for this election cycle,” Loren Furman, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry’s senior vice president for state and federal relations, told reporter Ed Sealover. “I would think for business groups everywhere, this outcome can determine what we’ll be fighting and what we’ll be supporting for the next two to four years.”
In a detailed overview of the battle for control of the state legislature, the Business Journal devotes significant attention to Senate District 19, where incumbent Republican Laura Woods faces Democratic challenger Rachel Zenziger. The story notes Steyer’s $200,000 contribution to Conservation Colorado’s campaign for Democratic control of the state legislature and a “six figure” investment to defeat Woods.
That’s actually putting it mildly. Conservation Colorado has promised to spend “hundreds of thousands of dollars” against Woods to flip the state Senate from Republican to Democratic control. And the environmental group’s campaign arm is also looking to widen the majority that Democrats currently enjoy in the House. The Conservation Colorado Victory Fund is spending against Republican State Rep. J. Paul Brown (HD-59) and for Democratic candidates Jeff Bridges (HD-3) and Tony Exum (HD-17), according to state campaign finance records.
A new Democratic majority in the state Senate and greater control in the House is what Steyer wants, too. He has personally contributed to the races of five Democrats: Zenzinger (SD-19), Exum (HD-17) Jenise May (SD-25), Daniel Kagan (SD-26) and Joe Salazar (HD-31), and so has liberal New York billionaire George Soros. Steyer and Soros are senior figures in the Democracy Alliance, a network of millionaires and billionaires that supports left-wing causes and candidates. This election cycle, the donors of the Democracy Alliance are determined to “take power in the states,” according to The Washington Post.
The amount of money that Steyer and Soros can give directly to candidates is necessarily small due to campaign finance limits. But these contributions clearly show where much larger sums of outside money from these billionaires will be directed. In Steyer’s case, he has spent almost $1 million on research and polling in Colorado alone this election cycle. This is an “extraordinary” amount, according to pollster and political analyst Floyd Ciruli, and points to a much bigger campaign this year than the $8.5 million that Steyer spent in 2014 trying to save U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D).
No wonder Colorado business leaders are worried. Tom Steyer opposes fracking. He funds and supports the same “keep it in the ground” activists who were behind this year’s failed anti-fracking ballot measures. With new influence over the state legislature, he could pick up where the anti-fracking ballot measures left off, demanding new laws and regulations that target the state’s oil, natural gas and coal producers.
Steyer’s anti-fossil fuel agenda doesn’t end there. On the campaign trail this year, he has pressured candidates to support a “clean energy” mandate of 50 percent by 2030. If his preferred candidates win, you can bet there will be legislation introduced to make Colorado’s controversial renewable energy mandates even tougher.
Steyer is also a staunch advocate for stringent caps on greenhouse gas emissions. For this reason, if Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) ever issues an executive order with state-level greenhouse gas targets, the California billionaire could pressure the state legislature into approving those limits or imposing even stricter ones. That was exactly what Steyer tried to accomplish two years ago in Washington state and Oregon, where he poured money into legislative races to get the kind of climate laws he wanted.
Colorado is one of the nation’s top energy producing states, so the costs of anti-fossil fuel policies would be large and unavoidable for the state’s households, businesses and broader economy. Steyer can believe what he wants and spend however he likes in Colorado politics, of course. But there is no reason why Colorado’s working families and job creators should be saddled with these costs just to make a California billionaire happy.
Simon Lomax is an associate energy policy analyst with the Independence Institute and a consultant who advises pro-business groups. From 2004 to 2012, he was a news reporter covering energy and environmental policy in Washington, D.C. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.