Steyer Successfully Buys Keystone Opposition

After taking millions in Steyer cash, left-wing senators sink pipeline bill

Tom Steyer / AP

Tom Steyer’s multi-million-dollar investment in Senate Democrats paid off Tuesday evening with the defeat of a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

"With today's vote, the Senate chose to stand up for the American people," Steyer declared in a statement after the bill fell one short vote of the 60 necessary to break a Democratic filibuster.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.) pushed hard for the measure as she faces a tough runoff battle against her Republican challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy, who sponsored companion legislation in the House.

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Landrieu has attracted Steyer’s ire for her Keystone support. His super PAC, NextGen Climate Action, even threatened to attack her directly over her pro-energy positions.

Thirteen of Landrieu’s Democratic colleagues joined her in supporting Keystone on Tuesday. Just one more Democratic vote would’ve sent the measure to the president’s desk.

Leading the anti-Keystone charge were a number of senators who have vocally supported Steyer’s efforts since he ramped up his political efforts last year.

Six Democratic Senators attended a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser at Steyer’s home in February. They included Mark Udall (D., Colo.), Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), and Sens. Ben Cardin (D., Md.), Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.). All six voted against the pipeline.

NextGen spent more than $7 million supporting Udall’s (D., Colo.) reelection bid, or attacking his opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner. Gardner prevailed, but Udall voted with Steyer on Tuesday.

The group also dropped more than $3 million attacking unsuccessful New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown. His opponent, Shaheen, voted against approving the pipeline.

NextGen eventually spent more than $60 million on federal elections, primarily a handful of Senate races. A majority of its chosen candidates lost their races.

Despite a resounding defeat at the polls in the midterms, Democrats are increasingly relying on campaign cash from hardline environmentalists. Those groups say that a purist Democratic Party without energy policy dissenters such as Landrieu is preferable to a Senate majority.

"We think the value gained in showing the Democratic Party that they need to be better on climate issues outweighs the marginal differences," an operative with the radical environmentalist group told the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank.

"This is about sort of instigating a cultural shift and a political shift that sends a message to politicians that they all need to be better on climate issues," she added.