Within weeks of John Podesta’s appointment as a top White House energy policy adviser, billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer, a board member of the think tank Podesta founded, was helping to steer White House climate policy, hacked documents reveal.
Democratic strategist and Steyer lieutenant Chris Lehane emailed Podesta a memo in January 2014 detailing a proposed structure for an overarching Obama administration climate policy plan that, he hoped, would both achieve policy gains and hurt Republicans at the ballot box.
According to Lehane, Steyer himself was also promoting the plan.
“TS may have sent you this doc last night — but believe he may have sent a slightly earlier draft so please use this one,” Lehane wrote to Podesta. “We hope this is helpful and stand ready to support whatever you may need.”
The email was one of thousands released by Wikileaks this week after hackers believed to be acting in concert with the Russian government breached Podesta’s email account, exposing details of the Hillary Clinton campaign chairman’s private conversations.
Lehane’s memo indicates that Podesta had asked for Steyer’s input shortly after he joined the White House as a counselor to the president in charge of energy and climate policy on Jan. 1, 2014.
“Thank you for asking us to share some ideas for a holistic approach to climate,” the memo began. “Per your direction, the goal is to unify policy, politics, and communications to help the Administration best execute an informed plan over a multi-year time period.”
Steyer and Podesta have worked together on climate issues for years. Podesta even recommendedin 2008, that Obama appoint Steyer, a board member of and donor to the Podesta-founded Center for American Progress, as his secretary of energy.
Before joining the White House, Podesta—with input from Lehane and radical environmental activist Bill McKibben—helped craft a political strategy that formed the basis for Steyer’s opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.
When Podesta solicited his input on administration climate policy in early 2014, Steyer was ramping up a political operation, spearheaded by Super PAC NextGen Climate Action, that would eventually spend more than $77 million backing Democratic Senate and gubernatorial candidates.
Though the strategy in the Steyer-Lehane memo aimed to win policy victories, it was also deeply political and sought to use “wedge” issues to force Republicans into politically difficult positions on climate and energy policy.