Isis, Ebola, and Chris Lehane’s Ark

October 31, 2014 - photo frame

Christopher Lehane saw a difficulty in early October. Fears of Isis and Ebola were overtaking a midterm elections, and melancholy to engulf his possess global-warming campaign. The former Clinton White House operative, who now runs devise for billionaire Tom Steyer’s environmental Super PAC, wrote colleagues that a “nationalizing” of a competition over confidence issues meant “we need to deliver some electoral kinetic appetite that will concede us to re-shape a stream ecology on a terms.”

He laid out a diversion devise for Colorado, where Steyer’s group, NextGen Climate Action Committee, is ancillary Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in a parsimonious reelection competition opposite Republican Rep. Cory Gardner. Lehane’s movie-producer-like, week-by-week “run of show” (he constructed a 2013 political thriller “Knife Fight,” starring Rob Lowe) called for commissioning a array of documentary-style TV spots exposing purported prevarications by Gardner on renewable appetite and a horde of other issues. NextGen would behind adult a conflict ads with several “investigative reports” created by former Wall Street Journal reporters on a super PAC’s payroll. “The tone, generally in a early weeks, needs to be really critical and sober,” Lehane advised. “This is an attack on democracy; an bid to mislead; critical stuff.”

The second phase, however, was some-more in gripping with Lehane’s circus-ringmaster reputation. Banners towed by airplanes would wail Gardner’s deceptions over football games. On a ground, Lehane mulled environment adult a polygraph appurtenance outward Gardner’s bureau and severe him to take a test. For Halloween, he suggested a “Haunted House Hall of Cory Mirrors.”

Lehane, 47, done his repute handling amidst a disharmony of a Clinton scandals. Now he’s intent in spending some-more than $50 million of Steyer’s hedge-fund resources this tumble to exam a tender that electorate will spin out to support possibilities who are critical about curbing meridian change. It’s NextGen’s subsequent step—after winning elections in Massachusetts and Virginia final year, and prodding President Obama to postpone movement on a Keystone XL pipeline—in Steyer’s multi-year investment devise for creation meridian change a preeminent domestic emanate of a era.

This brew of high earnest and comedy, driven by an huge new fortune, is an craving that is standard of complicated San Francisco.

“The domestic ecology in a West is different,” says Lehane, racing between meetings with NextGen’s 20- and 30-something-year-old staffers during a 10th-floor domicile in downtown San Francisco. “When a doors tighten during fundraisers in Washington and Manhattan, it’s always about self-aggrandizement, who can get a many out of supervision for themselves. In San Francisco, a review is about impacting a world, genuine issues, not self-interest. It’s tough creation people believe, generally in a East, that anyone like Tom would spend $50 million on something like this with no financial gain. You don’t find a lot of people like that anywhere. But this place grows them.”

NextGen grew out of a investigate plan Lehane did for Steyer in 2012 on a doubt that has pained environmentalists given a 1980s. Why, if a scholarship is mostly settled, is a U.S. relocating so solemnly to extent greenhouse-gas emissions from hoary fuels? The answer is connected to how a U.S. domestic complement works, quite a appetite of special interests to change process making.

Lehane found that all American amicable movements, from polite rights to happy marriage, took decades to change policy.

His conclusions led Steyer to confirm that they indispensable to accelerate a transition from a diagnosis of a problem to government action. Waiting for change to occur on a own, given a absolute special interests pulling back, would speed a universe toward catastrophe. “What Tom is eventually perplexing to do here is lift huge tectonic plates,” Lehane says.


Steyer, a hedge-fund executive who left a sidestep account he founded, Farallon Capital, in 2012 in sequence to persevere himself to philanthropy, grown what he calls “the acceleration speculation of politics”—which involves regulating his income as a wedge. “The acceleration speculation presupposes we’re on a right side of history, that certain change will happen, though a coercion of this conditions means we have to make it occur faster,” Steyer says. “Chris is a active partial in a stew, what creates it bubble.”

“Working with Tom reminded me of operative with Bill Clinton and George Mitchell,” Lehane says. “They’ll review a 50-page report, confederate all a information and pinpoint a essential vital square in one judgment inside a document.”

Using big-data analytics, NextGen’s Silicon Valley researchers identified a million supposed “climate voters” in a 7 races a super PAC is targeting this fall. These people, who array some-more than adequate to representation parsimonious races in any of their targeted states, fit demographics that NextGen’s pollsters have found can be galvanized to opinion in a midterm choosing by environmental concerns. They tumble into 4 overlapping groups: Hispanics, African Americans, women, and electorate between a ages of 18 and 35. Each organisation responds differently to a issues. Hispanic and African Americans, for example, worry many about a health effects of soiled atmosphere and water, while younger electorate tend to be some-more endangered about a long-term environmental impacts of tellurian warming. What a million meridian electorate share, however, is disregard for possibilities who repudiate a problem exists.

“I call it a ‘troglodyte narrative,'” Lehane says. “Sixty-five percent of electorate trust meridian change is real; to repudiate it is like observant a universe is flat.”

Lehane, a fixed magnanimous who consults for a high bonus for labor unions and other causes he supports, is famous in a spin courtesy as a extreme domestic warrior. He and his stream business partner and mentor, Mark Fabiani, were a people in a Clinton White House fight room who were in assign of antithesis research, dishing on Clinton adversaries such as eccentric warn Ken Starr, whose discrediting appearances during Republican fundraisers came to light after Lehane leaks. In 1995, Lehane wrote a 332-page news that identified how a “communication stream” of swindling theories finished adult entrance out as law in a mainstream media, heading to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s famous explain of “a immeasurable worried conspiracy” opposite a Clintons.

In 2000, operative as a orator for Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign, Lehane watched from Nashville as a Bush discuss staged mistake critique riots in Florida to stop a choosing recount.

pLehane during anbsp;Sierra Club eventuality in Grand Rapids, Michigan in Jul 2000. His boss, Al Gore, had only viewed their publicity of his Presidential bid./p

Lehane during a Sierra Club eventuality in Grand Rapids, Michigan in Jul 2000. His boss, Al Gore, had only viewed their publicity of his Presidential bid.

Gore was out-maneuvered by Karl Rove’s belligerent forces, and a knowledge parched into Lehane’s mind that in politics a high highway is roughly never a best route. In 2003, Lehane quiescent from then-Sen. John Kerry’s presidential discuss when a claimant refused to take a descent opposite surging Democratic opposition Howard Dean.  

“Politics is a full-contact sport,” says Lehane, who laces his discuss and memos with basketball and fighting metaphors. (“No giveaway layups,” on a need for candidates to responds aggresively to criticism. “Whoever closes with a hardest flurry of punches will win,” on hammering opponents by choosing day, “like carrying a round final in a tied game.”)

Lehane’s devise for NextGen is all about removing a million meridian electorate to vote.

The targeted groups are described by pollsters as “low propensity, drop-off voters,” definition they typically omit midterm elections. For immature voters, “climate is a emanate of their generation,” and they will opinion if they trust a sold claimant is critical about addressing a problem, wrote Lehane in a Sep devise memo. Same for women, who “are quite manageable to open health messages,” according to Lehane, and are some-more expected than group to trust meridian change is “a genuine and evident issue.”

NextGen is also targeting what Lehane calls “Super Shifters”—voters in families who acquire reduction than $100,000 a year, are “profoundly unhappy” with gridlock in Washington and “are stability to puncture out from a 2008 Great Recession.” Though mostly conservative, “Shifters” have grown leery of Republicans since a GOP is viewed to be “closely aligned” with the absolute army that “seek to supply a mercantile system” for their possess self-interest.

“Connecting Republicans to specific corporate donors with a financial self-interest blunts what should be a Republican Party’s biggest item in this choosing with a Super Shifters—the mercantile message—and also allows us to play offense by branch some of their largest donors into an electoral liability,” Lehane wrote in a Sep document. “Bill Belichick, a three-time Super Bowl winning manager of a New England Patriots, has excelled during winning by holding divided his opponents’ biggest strength. Our opinion investigate creates transparent we can occupy such a jujitsu proceed in this choosing by personification offense on a Republicans’ tie to their donors on issues associated to meridian change. In particular, a Koch brothers are apropos an electoral load boring down Republicans, as they designate to pivotal voter cohorts that a stream domestic complement is fraudulent opposite them.”

As a super PAC, as opposite to a candidate, NextGen has a oppulance of not worrying about offending voter sensibilities.

That gives Lehane some-more artistic permit than he’s ever had to invent visuals and sinecure former reporters and others to support NextGen’s messaging. He feels liberated. (In a final days of a 2000 presidential campaign, he due airing an ad that juxtaposed a print of Al Gore in his high propagandize football uniform with a design of George W. Bush in his Yale cheerleader’s outfit, above a caption, “Who do we consider is tough adequate to be president?” More politically scold heads prevailed to kill a spot, that still rankles.)

Last year, NextGen sent adult an aeroplane ensign over Boston’s TD Garden locus accusing Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch—then running for a U.S. Senate, and a believer of a Keystone XL pipeline—of rooting for a reviled Montreal Canadiens hockey team, famous as a Habs. “Steve Lynch says: Go Habs! And Go Canadian Dirty Oil,” it said. The ensign forced an indignant Lynch to announce he’d been a Bruins fan for years and had sponsored state legislation to emanate Boston Bruins permit plates for charity.


This month, Lehane mobilized a male in a moose fit to Scott Brown’s senate-campaign stops in New Hampshire, to exaggerate a hazard confronting a state’s dear animal from tellurian warming. He dispatched a Noah’s ark—actually a sawed-off sailboat welded to a vessel trailer—to Florida’s highways to “rescue” Gov. Rick Scott’s energy-industry discuss contributors, “two by two,” from rising sea levels. And he unleashed a cast of cavemen in a array of ads and events spoofing Republicans who don’t accept climate-change science.  

“Chris understands a tellurian play of politics, and a intersection of museum and media coverage that gets courtesy in forms that cut by all a clutter,” says Steve Schmidt, a GOP strategist who ran Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential discuss and once co-owned a domestic consulting organisation with Lehane and other partners in California. He also admires Lehane’s temperament. “There are a lot of grave people in politics, though Chris isn’t one of them.”

Raised in Maine by a magnanimous father and regressive mother, Lehane, who was famous as “Smedgie” as a kid, was always a prankster, says his younger sister, Erin, now a associate Democratic domestic consultant in San Francisco. “He has a knack for anticipating only a thing to make people squirm.”


Changing a account behind from Isis and Ebola to tellurian warming would take money.

In a array of meetings in mid-October, Steyer concluded to representation in an additional $4 million to $5 million, on tip of a $50 million budgeted for this election, to “triple down,” Lehane calls it, on NextGen’s shutting blitz. The additional income is going for some-more promotion and discuss events to strengthen a simple NextGen message: That wickedness and meridian change are already causing poignant mistreat to many communities, and that Republican possibilities are in rejection since they’re on a take from fossil-fuel interests such as brothers Charles and David Koch.

What’s essential for a final weeks, Lehane wrote to a staff, is anticipating “a hyperlocal, specific emanate that somehow relates to meridian but can truly cut by a confusion and sound and emanate a possess narrative.” The emanate should uncover “hyperlocal harm” from meridian impacts like drought, floods, or rising seas, “with genuine faces” of victims whom NextGen can use in a promotional efforts. The harm, Lehane added, should ideally have a proceed couple behind to a hostile claimant by discuss contributions or another tie that raises questions about a candidate’s character.

“Think of this as opening a cut over a opponent’s eye and afterwards pounding it,” he wrote.

The hyperlocal devise is directed during creation meridian change, mostly viewed as apart and remote, a transparent and approaching hazard during home—ignored by fossil-fueled Republicans during everyone’s peril. In Michigan, for example, where NextGen is ancillary Democratic Rep. Gary Peters in his U.S. Senate competition opposite Republican Terri Lynn Land, a hyperlocal concentration is on a heavily soiled area of Detroit famous by a zip code, 48217.

The superPAC has hold discuss events and aired statewide ads showcasing thousands of residents who were allegedly disgusted by a large petroleum coke dump in a area that was operated by Koch Industries. Trying to couple a wickedness to Land, NextGen has called on a claimant to give behind discuss contributions that she viewed from a Koch brothers. The super PAC also consecrated dirt tests that showed lead levels in a 48217 area were some-more than 30 times aloft than in samples taken nearby Land’s home in a city of Byron Center, Michigan. Steyer visited Detroit himself to accommodate with area residents.

“The stories were so absolute that one chairman on our group left a room,” Steyer says. “I betrothed to consider about solutions. Of course, domestic recognition is a vast partial of that.”

In a governor’s competition in Florida, NextGen chose Tampa as a hyperlocal play. The super PAC is airing ads accusing Republican Gov. Rick Scott of branch a blind eye while Duke Energy gouged internal ratepayers by flitting on as most as $3.2 billion in costs for chief appetite plants it never built. The super PAC has called on Scott, who is being challenged by former administrator and Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, to give behind $1.2 million in contributions from a utility. Tampa, a Republican stronghold, supposing some-more than half of Scott’s domain of feat in 2010.

“Changing Tampa alone could make or mangle a race,” Lehane says.

Steyer and Lehane honed a hyperlocal proceed in Virginia’s gubernatorial competition final year, when their candidate, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, narrowly degraded a state’s Republican profession general, Ken Cuccinelli II. NextGen battered Cuccinelli with ads claiming reliable breaches, after an partner in Cuccinelli’s bureau was purported to have given crude authorised recommendation to dual appetite companies fighting Southwest Virginia landowners over vegetable rights. One of a companies, Consol Energy, donated $111,000 to Cuccinelli’s campaign. According to NextGen’s analysis, 20 to 25 percent of McAuliffe’s domain of feat was attributable to Cuccinelli’s underperformance in Southwest Virginia, typically a Republican stronghold.

“Virginia is a indication for a hyperlocal devise now,” Lehane says.

Steyer insists that NextGen’s efforts are carrying a vast impact this cycle. In an Oct 24 minute to staff, Steyer offering 5 examples of how a Republican possibilities practiced or ducked their before positions in response to NextGen’s media offensives, including a discuss twin that showed Gardner in Colorado refusing to answer “yes or no” to a doubt of either he believes humans minister significantly to meridian change. In another metric, information from a Web analytics organisation called Zignal showed mentions of Florida Gov. Scott’s tie to Duke Energy in both amicable and giveaway media jumped from 22 on Oct. 7, before NextGen publicized a allegations, to 393 on Oct. 15, after NextGen expelled a second ad on a matter. Lehane, too, says that a governor’s competition in Florida, along with a one in Michigan, are contests where NextGen has, so far, been a difference-maker.

In credentials for Science Denier Week progressing this month, Lehane walked NextGen staff by a stunts and ads being planned. Men in caveman suits would dog opponents’ rallies to amplify candidates’ statements dismissing a science. Denier Week teach-ins were scheduled on college campuses, and “Caveman Awards” were contemplated for Republican troglodytes.

The week’s centerpiece is a TV spot, co-written and supervised by Lehane, who even creates a cameo coming in a ad. It shows 97 scientists in white lab coats station in a field—representing a commission who believes in climate-change science—and 3 Neanderthals, a commission of scientists who do not. 

Lehane urged staff to build adult “some suspense, some theater.” Then he had another thought. “What about organizing caveman toga parties?”

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