Billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer plans to spend at least $100 million on leftist politics in 2018. Rather than just giving directly to Democratic candidates and organizations, Steyer is building a parallel structure that could give his preferred candidates an important boost as the Koch brothers, deep pocket Republican donors are scaling back their support for the Trump-era GOP.
Politico reports that Steyer is pouring his cash into organizations such as NextGen America, Need to Impeach and his For Our Future PAC as well as individual candidates and clean energy ballot initiatives in Arizona and Nevada. Steyer’s main two organizations have almost 1,000 staffers and another 2,000 volunteers.
The groups have the potential to sway close elections. Need to Impeach has already identified nearly 700,000 infrequent voters in the 63 most competitive House districts from its email list. The list totals more than 5.5 million people.
“Our list is bigger than the NRA’s — and we’re going to make sure that it votes that way in 2018,” said Kevin Mack, the group’s lead strategist.
Steyer’s focus on impeachment runs counter to the conventional wisdom. Internal polling found that only 32 percent of Democrats wanted candidates to avoid talking about impeachment while 59 percent were in favor of using the possibility of impeachment as an election issue. Democratic leaders feared a Republican backlash if Democrats campaigned on impeachment, but Steyer’s polling of Republicans showed that only 21 percent were worried that a Democrat-controlled House would impeach Trump.
These numbers may be explained by the fact that Democrats are far more likely to take control of the House than the Senate. House Democrats could impeach Trump, but a Republican Senate would be unlikely to remove him from office. If Trump was removed from office, Vice President Pence would become president, arguably giving congressional conservatives a boost.
“There’s all this concern in Washington that impeachment is going to rile up Republicans, but our numbers show the opposite. … It’s time to get past the establishment talking points and get to what’s really going to win elections,” Mack said, noting that the “21 percent of Republicans… aren’t going to vote for us anyway.”
As Steyer’s spending ramps up, the largest Republican donors are closing their wallets. The Koch brothers announced over the weekend that they regretted supporting some candidates who were disappointing in their support for the brothers’ libertarian principles.
“We're going to be much stricter,” Charles Koch said. Koch added that their network of organizations would also “hold people responsible for their commitments.”
The Kochs had previously planned to invest $400 million in the 2018 election cycle, but Mr. Koch hinted that those plans might change, saying, “Where we invest is where we find an opportunity where our capabilities can make a difference, and so we'll engage in politics to the degree in which it's really moving our overall agenda. If we don't see that, then we'll go into these other areas.”
Even more troublesome for Republicans, Koch said that his network would consider supporting moderate or conservative Democrats.
“What I'm OK with are policies that will move us toward a society of mutual benefit, equal rights, where everybody has the opportunity to realize their potential,” said Koch. “So, I don't care what initials are in front or after somebody's name.” He added, “We would love for there to be more Democrats who support these issues.”
President Trump responded to the Koch announcement in characteristic fashion. In a series of tweets, the president called the Kochs “a total joke” with a “highly overrated” network. The president says he “never sought their support because I don’t need their money,” but other Republican candidates who are not independently wealthy will certainly miss the Koch money.