By Richard Valdmanis
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer is expanding his political agenda beyond climate change to embrace issues ranging from immigration to income inequality, which he expects will be critical to mustering votes for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November presidential election.
Steyer, who four years ago left the hedge fund firm he co-founded in order to devote himself full-time to environmental activism, said he hoped the broader agenda for his NextGen Climate organization would help undermine Republican nominee Donald Trump. He derided the New York real estate magnate’s policies as “dangerous” and “delusional.”
Steyer has directed NextGen, his main advocacy arm, to delve into immigration, racial justice, wealth inequality and education instead of just environmentalism to better drive youth and minority voter turnout for the Nov. 8 election.
“We’re talking about a broader group of connected issues, and we don’t think any of them stand without the others,” Steyer told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, explaining the shift.
NextGen has already produced ads in California attacking Trump on immigration and his temperament. In one, a group of young people are filmed listening to Trump describe Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers and promising to wall off the border. In another, women look into the camera as Trump’s voice is heard calling women fat, disgusting, and ugly.
Steyer said he hoped the broader agenda for NextGen would help undermine Trump. “I show him no respect,” Steyer said.
A Trump spokesperson was not immediately available to comment.
NextGen’s shift into new issues began a few months ago, Steyer said, and was inspired by his work on California’s progressive Fair Shake commission, launched last year by a group of high-profile activists, academics and former politicians focused on wealth inequality in the state.
“That was the genesis to some extent. It allowed us to look deeply at all the related issues,” he said.
NextGen has spent about $20 million so far on the U.S. election, and is likely to spend at least another $55 million by election day.
Steyer, who has earned a reputation as America’s most influential environmental advocate, has had mixed results in his crusade on climate change, despite the money he has poured into mobilizing voters around the issue.
Steyer has battled large-scale oil industry infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, which was rejected by the administration of President Barack Obama last year, and has sought to bolster climate-friendly politicians.
In 2014, NextGen pumped around $75 million into efforts to support six climate-friendly Democratic candidates in mid-term elections, but only two of whom won their contests.
In the current presidential contest, NextGen has fallen short of its aim make climate change a critical issue, eclipsed by voter rage over issues including immigration, the economy and national security.
Reuters/Ipsos polling shows only about 25 percent of likely American voters will make a choice on the basis of a candidate’s views on climate change, although most agree that the United States should act to combat it.
Steyer endorsed Clinton last month after she clinched the Democratic nomination following a heated battle against Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Clinton has said she would seek to advance renewable energy use, boost regulation and reduce U.S. consumption of oil and coal if elected.
“I can take them at their word that they are going to prioritize this,” Steyer said.
Trump has called climate change a hoax and has vowed to cut U.S. environmental regulation to expand U.S. drilling and coal mining, part of his bid to win over blue collar voters.
Steyer called that position dangerous.
“It would be funny if it weren’t so serious,” he said.
(Editing by Leslie Adler)