With Election Day less than a hundred days away, we can expect the campaign season to bring out some of the worst in human behavior. It encourages politicians, activists, and the journalists who cover them to participate in all sorts of shenanigans.
However, much of what are self-styled elite opinionmongers would dismiss as “silly” perhaps isn’t. Perhaps it’s only their failure to hold their ideological compatriots to the same standards. Take the case of billionaire hedge-fund manager and progressive megadonor Tom Steyer, who regularly commits so many of the sins conservatives are accused of--and gets a free from progressives.
Take, for example, the handwringing and hyperventilating over money in politics, which progressives argue is corrosive to democracy. It’s a cause célèbre on the left, who fight against it in the court of public opinion and in the halls of Congress. Their chief bogeyman at the moment is the Super PAC, an independent political committee that may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in support of political candidates. The Super PAC, according to many of the left, amounts to nothing less than the wholesale buying of elections.
But their squeamishness about big-dollar Super PAC donors influencing politics doesn’t seem to extend to Steyer--who is, according to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, the single biggest Super PAC donor of this election cycle. As of the third week of July, Steyer had already shelled out a cool $20 million for progressive candidates. Liberals who decry the Super PAC always point fingers at wealthy conservative donors--but in the Sunlight Foundation’s analysis, the top five conservative Super PAC donors combined still fall short of what Steyer has dropped on this year’s races.
And this year, every major fact-checking organization has long been on the record against a wild claim that Steyer’s Super PAC, NextGen Climate Action, recently made in Iowa against Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst. In short, an ad run by the Steyer group charges that Ernst’s signing of Americans for Tax Reform’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge is tantamount to support for American companies sending jobs overseas. The Pledge, Steyer’s ad argues, protects tax credits for those companies despite the pledge including no such promises.
Every major fact-checking site: Adwatch, FactCheck.org, and Politifact, as well as local organizations in cities like Seattle and Las Vegas, have debunked this claim in the previous two election cycles when it’s been made against other candidates signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
Even as Steyer has invested in the 2014 midterms more heavily than anyone else – giving more than twice as much as this cycle’s next largest Super PAC donor, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg – his motives for doing so have escaped media scrutiny. It hardly needs to be said that the same courtesy is never extended to conservative donors, to whom the media tends to ascribe nefariously self-interested motives for their political giving.
And yet Steyer burst onto the political scene by opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, a project which promises lower energy prices and thousands of new jobs. His opposition to the pipeline was heralded as a public spirited act of social conscience.
Actually, it turns out that Steyer held a financial stake in the Kinder Mountain pipeline, a competing pipeline, and stood to profit significantly if regulators killed the Keystone project in favor of Kinder Mountain. Steyer has since divested himself of his interests in fossil fuels, but the media never questioned his motives, choosing instead to praise his activism and coo over the possibility that he might run for office someday.
Commentators often refer to the runup to Election Day as “the silly season.” But what’s truly silly is a double standard that protects Tom Steyer while he freely commits some of the worst sins in the progressive catechism.