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Billionaire stumps for climate change cause

– Billionaire retired investor Tom Steyer has pledged to spend at least $50 million of his fortune making climate change an election issue this year and is trying to entice other wealthy donors to put up another $50 million.

So far, he has been alone in writing checks to his climate-themed political organization, NextGen Climate Action Committee.

To change that, he gathered about 20 prospective donors and money-raisers at his California ranch this month and made the $100 million pitch, two people familiar with the meeting confirmed.

The money would be used to support candidates who want to address climate change in ways that Steyer backs, including opposing the Keystone XL pipeline to transport crude oil from Canada through the United States.

“There is an army building, and it’s not going to be Tom alone,” said Betsy Taylor, who runs a consulting group in Takoma Park, Md., on climate strategies and attended the meeting at Steyer’s ranch.

The group discussed getting involved in both state and federal elections. Steyer also is considering gubernatorial races in Pennsylvania and Florida, where Democratic candidates have a shot at unseating Republicans who have not promoted climate issues.

“Steyer is going into states where climate really matters,” Taylor said. “They are looking for places where there is a kind of clarity.”

The 56-year-old, whose net worth is $2.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, made his fortune as a money manager. Steyer has pledged to give away all of his wealth and intends to spend much of it on climate change, he has said in previous interviews.

In the past two years, Steyer has stepped up his political activism.

He spent more than $50 million on a successful 2012 California ballot initiative to rescind a tax benefit given to out-of-state companies, on Sen. Ed Markey’s special-election victory in Massachusetts, and on Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s winning race for Virginia governor.

Steyer has shown an aptitude for raising political money for party causes and candidates.

Today, he’ll host at his San Francisco home a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is trying to help the party maintain its slim majority. He’ll share new polling on Keystone that shows how support for the pipeline is affected by certain elements such as Chinese investment and whether the oil will stay in the U.S.

Steyer will then fly to Washington, D.C., for the Democratic Governors Association winter conference, where he will join a panel discussion on climate change Friday, according to a DGA agenda.

The discussion group will cover ways that state leaders can advance regional greenhouse gas initiatives as some New England states have done in the absence of congressional involvement.