WASHINGTON (AP) - A super PAC aiming to make climate change a key issue in this year's midterm elections is falling far short of its goal to raise $100 million, cramping the group's ability to influence major races with just four months left until Election Day.
NextGen Climate announced plans in May to spend at least $100 million in seven competitive Senate and gubernatorial races. Its founder, retired hedge fund manager and longtime Democratic donor Tom Steyer, put up $50 million of his own money, and the group said it would raise the rest from likeminded donors.
But with the election approaching, the group has brought in less than $5 million from outside donors - and only $1.2 million for its super PAC, NextGen Climate Action Committee, which can spend unlimited amounts supporting or opposing political candidates. The rest of the funds were donated to the group's nonprofit wing and are being used for advocacy work opposing the Keystone XL pipeline and for other costs, the group said.
The lackluster success in recruiting other high-dollar donors means Steyer's group will have to prioritize how it spends its limited funds on an array of pricey political campaigns. In 2014, the group is backing Democrats and opposing their Republican opponents for Senate in New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado and Michigan, and for governor in Pennsylvania, Florida and Maine.
NextGen officials said the group plans to keep raising money aggressively this year, and will concentrate on races in which the candidates have major differences over whether climate change is real and what the government should do about it. The group has also said Steyer's $50 million is the floor, not the ceiling, of what he might donate himself.
The super PAC already has gone on the air in Pennsylvania, attacking GOP Gov. Tom Corbett for accepting major donations from oil and natural gas companies and arguing that he's beholden to the industry. Corbett faces a serious re-election challenge from Democrat Tom Wolf.
But it's unclear how much of an impact the group can have in swaying the races that will determine which party controls the Senate and governors' mansions in key states. Democrats are fighting most of their toughest races this year in conservative, oil-dependent states where even Democrats are seeking to fashion themselves as friendly to the energy industry.
One of the most prominent billionaire donors on the left, Steyer was a major fundraiser for President Barack Obama's presidential campaigns. His copious spending on the 2014 midterm elections has drawn frequent comparisons to the Koch brothers, who have flooded conservative campaigns and causes with political money.