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Cook Organic not the Planet Campaign

Tom Steyer may be liberals' answer to the Koch brothers

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Tom Steyer is standing upright near the corner of a small, beige meeting room at Georgetown University, arms at his sides, eyes shut intently. Half a dozen ministers and priests surround him, laying hands on his torso.

Together, the pastors begin to pray, asking for divine help in shaping public opinion: "Soften them.... Open them to you   for your purpose.... Claim the promise made to Moses."

It is a curious warmup for a technical conference about an oil pipeline.

But like many other environmentalists concerned that America is dawdling as the world burns, these ministers, each a leader in efforts to mobilize churchgoers against climate change, see Steyer as, quite literally, a godsend.

Heady stuff, even for a 56-year-old billionaire.

For years, liberals have fretted about the power of ultrawealthy people determined to use their billions to advance their political views. Charles and David Koch, in particular, have ranked high in the demonology of the American left.

But in Steyer, liberals have a billionaire on their side. Like the Kochs, he is building a vast political network and seizing opportunities provided by loose campaign finance rules to insert himself into elections nationwide. In direct contrast to them, he has made opposition to fossil fuels and the campaign against global warming the center of his activism.

The former financier is an unlikely green icon. Steyer built his fortune with a San Francisco-based hedge fund of the sort that drove protesters to occupy Wall Street. Some of the investments that landed him on the Forbes list of America's wealthiest went into companies he now says are destroying the planet. Adversaries and, in private, at least some erstwhile allies call him a dilettante.

Yet, unlike many others in a parade of super-rich Californians who have made forays into politics, Steyer has proved himself skilled at bringing attention to his cause and himself.   

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