California environmentalist shakes up Florida race

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 19, 2014 at 5:57 pm •  Published: August 19, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A California billionaire environmentalist is pouring millions of dollars into the Florida governor's race to buy television ads attacking Gov. Rick Scott as a friend of polluters and utility companies, giving the campaign of Democratic front-runner Charlie Crist a boost as polls show a tightening race.

Former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer has put Scott and the Florida Republican Party on the defensive, prompting them to hit back with their own ads attacking Steyer as a hypocrite. They have also threatened television stations with lawsuits if they carry the ads, which Scott's lawyers say are misleading and defamatory. So far, one Fort Myers station has stopped running them.

Steyer's so-called "super PAC," NextGen Climate, set off the blitz of attack ads more than a week ago. One ad targeted Scott's environmental record, including campaign contributions of $200,000 from oil interests that profited from permits to drill in Florida. Another ad criticized Scott over a state law that allowed Duke Energy to charge customers for nuclear power projects that have since been cancelled.

While the ads don't mention Crist by name, he is getting in effect millions of dollars in advertising. A spokesman for Crist said the former governor has met with Steyer and welcomes his support. Polls show Crist and Scott in a tight race.

The ads are scheduled to run until the end of the month in the Tampa Bay area, southwest Florida and in Palm Beach County, according to station files posted by the Federal Communications Commission. While NextGen would not say how much it planned to spend, it noted that Steyer has said he'll spend whatever it takes to succeed.

Steyer, a major Democratic donor who has hosted President Barack Obama, is often painted as a liberal version of the conservative, big-spending Koch brothers. But Steyer's spending revolves around one theme: changing policy to combat climate change.

Still, some have accused Steyer of hypocrisy because of his former investments in fossil fuels.

Farallon Capital Management, the fund he once co-owned, invested in coal mining projects that are expected to produce greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come.

In a blog post in June, Steyer said those investments occurred at a time when climate was not "on my radar." His aides said he was not available for comment Monday.

NextGen is moving strongly into Florida with the ads and a field program to motivate voters. The group's prime reason for targeting Scott is his refusal to accept climate change, which researchers say could lead to massive flooding in Florida over the next decade as sea levels rise. During his first campaign in 2010, Scott said he was skeptical of climate change. This year, Scott said "I'm not a scientist" when asked about it.

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