Hacked Memo Reveals Steyer’s WH Climate Policy Influence

Billionaire Democrat proposed ‘extreme weather SWAT team’ to exploit natural disasters

Podesta Steyer
John Podesta, Tom Steyer / AP

Within weeks of John Podesta’s appointment as a top White House energy policy adviser, billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer, a board member of the think tank Podesta founded, was helping to steer White House climate policy, hacked documents reveal.

Democratic strategist and Steyer lieutenant Chris Lehane emailed Podesta a memo in January 2014 detailing a proposed structure for an overarching Obama administration climate policy plan that, he hoped, would both achieve policy gains and hurt Republicans at the ballot box.

According to Lehane, Steyer himself was also promoting the plan.

"TS may have sent you this doc last night — but believe he may have sent a slightly earlier draft so please use this one," Lehane wrote to Podesta. "We hope this is helpful and stand ready to support whatever you may need."

The email was one of thousands released by Wikileaks this week after hackers believed to be acting in concert with the Russian government breached Podesta’s email account, exposing details of the Hillary Clinton campaign chairman’s private conversations.

Lehane’s memo indicates that Podesta had asked for Steyer’s input shortly after he joined the White House as a counselor to the president in charge of energy and climate policy on Jan. 1, 2014.

"Thank you for asking us to share some ideas for a holistic approach to climate," the memo began. "Per your direction, the goal is to unify policy, politics, and communications to help the Administration best execute an informed plan over a multi-year time period."

Steyer and Podesta have worked together on climate issues for years. Podesta even recommended in 2008, that Obama appoint Steyer, a board member of and donor to the Podesta-founded Center for American Progress, as his secretary of energy.

Before joining the White House, Podesta—with input from Lehane and radical environmental activist Bill McKibben—helped craft a political strategy that formed the basis for Steyer’s opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.

When Podesta solicited his input on administration climate policy in early 2014, Steyer was ramping up a political operation, spearheaded by Super PAC NextGen Climate Action, that would eventually spend more than $77 million backing Democratic Senate and gubernatorial candidates.

Though the strategy in the Steyer-Lehane memo aimed to win policy victories, it was also deeply political and sought to use "wedge" issues to force Republicans into politically difficult positions on climate and energy policy.

The memo stressed the importance of "demonstrating the efficacy of climate as a winning political issue (i.e., during competitive elections, climate can be deployed both to support Democratic voter performance, as well as to raise basic trust issues with individual candidates that further degrade the Republican brand)."

It recommended that Obama pursue policies that "can be accomplished through regulation or executive powers by the end of 2014" in order to either enact left-wing climate goals or implicate Republicans in attempting to block them.

The memo recommended enlisting every federal agency in the effort, appointing a climate policy lead in each agency, and regularly coordinating messaging and policy efforts with a point person at the White House.

It also proposed the creation of an "extreme weather SWAT team" that would immediately seize on natural disasters and other extreme weather events to advance a political and communications agenda.

The team would "work together and engage when extreme weather happens — including response; local outreach; media; science information about historic nature of the event; and coordinating possible principal travel (POTUS, FLOTUS, VPOTUS, Cabinet)," the memo explained.

All of those efforts would reinforce a central component in what the memo dubbed the "Big Idea": that the administration and its allies on climate policy are the "good guys," while those who oppose its agenda are morally compromised.

"The energy for any campaign involving social change is to define what is at stake in very simple terms of who is right and who is wrong," the memo explained. "To succeed, the issue must always be framed as taking action for the right reason while being opposed for the wrong reason."

As a corollary to that strategy, the memo cautioned against getting bogged down in facts. "One cannot be handcuffed by data on a fundamental moral issue of this kind," it explained.

Steyer and Lehane did not respond to questions about the memo and subsequent White House climate policy.