Bloomberg Targets Attorneys General With Ads on Carbon Emissions

Source: By MAGGIE HABERMAN, New York Times • Posted: Monday, November 9, 2015

Michael R. Bloomberg is spending over $10 million on ads against attorneys general who are suing the Obama administration over regulations on power plant emissions. Credit Monica Schipper/Getty Images 

Former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City said this week that he would run millions of dollars in political television ads against four state attorneys general who are suing the Obama administration over regulations on power plant emissions.

The ads, which Mr. Bloomberg’s advisers said would cost more than $10 million across the four states, signify a new venture for the billionaire philanthropist, who has already spent heavily from his personal fortune to try to limit the number of coal-burning power plants nationally.

They amount to a defense of the White House over its Clean Power Plan, which has been met with opposition, primarily — but not only — from Republican officials. But Mr. Bloomberg’s goal, his aides insist, is to explain how the issue of clean energy affects people in major cities and living near power plants.

Still, the ads will run in four states that have been presidential battlegrounds, and on an issue that has gained increasing attention from both political parties. The ads will run in Missouri, Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin, and target Republicans and Democrats. The lone Democrat in the group, Chris Koster of Missouri, is running for governor next year.

The ads will begin running over the coming days, with two of them describing the attorneys general as accepting donations from “polluters” and bowing to special interests. The ad targeting Mr. Koster portrays him as an opponent of President Obama’s environmental agenda and as someone who is not doing the right thing for Missouri’s families.

In Michigan, a similar commercial will accuse Attorney General Bill Schuette of “putting polluters and his campaign contributors ahead of protecting Michigan families.” In Florida, the spot describes Pam Bondi, a Republican, as “an attorney general for polluters, not for us.” The ads are being paid for through Mr. Bloomberg’s political arm, Independence USA PAC.

“These four attorneys general are trying to stop the president from doing something that I think is terribly important,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a telephone interview. “I want the public to know what they’re doing.”

Mr. Bloomberg’s political spending has focused primarily on gun control in recent years and has sometimes been to his detriment. The National Rifle Association and others have often lampooned him as an out-of-state billionaire in hopes of neutralizing the impact of his backing.

Andrew Whalen, a spokesman for Mr. Koster’s campaign for governor, used a similar approach to respond to the ads, saying that he “works for the people of Missouri, not a New York City billionaire.” He suggested that the cost of the Clean Power Plan in the state could reach several times what the state spends on education, adding, “While a double-digit electric bill jump might not affect someone with Michael Bloomberg’s bank account, it would devastate seniors on fixed incomes, working families and small businesses across the state.”

A screenshot of one ad criticizing Attorney General Chris Koster of Missouri. Credit via Independence USA PAC 

In emailed statements, Ms. Bondi and the Wisconsin attorney general, Brad D. Schimel, echoed those remarks, with Mr. Schimel describing Mr. Bloomberg as an “out-of-touch billionaire” and Ms. Bondi calling him a “billionaire bully.”

John Sellek, a spokesman for Mr. Schuette, also described the ads as evidence of a promoter of big government, saying, “Next, he’ll be coming after your trucks and S.U.V.s.”

The targets of the ads are members of a broad collection of attorneys general who are suing the Environmental Protection Agency to block the new regulations, which would limit carbon emissions from power plants and reduce the amount of coal used by states. The opposition to the regulations includes concerns about an overreach by the federal government, as well as fears that the new emissions standards will prove costly for states.

A rival lawsuit has been filed by officials in other states, led by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York, seeking to support the Obama administration. The suits have become the latest battle in the policy wars during the Obama administration, in a fight that members of the coal industry often call the “war on coal.”

As the mayor of New York, Mr. Bloomberg worked on pollution reduction, limiting automobile traffic in central areas by putting pedestrian plazas in place and forcing building owners to abandon the dirtiest forms of heating oil.

Unlike with guns, an issue that Mr. Bloomberg has spent at least $50 million on through ads and the group he formed, Everytown, his advisers think there is less passion among voters for protecting coal-burning power plants. And unlike governors or senators, attorneys general are often lesser-known figures in their states, so Mr. Bloomberg’s advisers are hoping their ads can define these officials in the minds of voters as being anti-environment. Ms. Bondi and Mr. Schimel would be up for re-election in 2018. Mr. Schuette cannot be re-elected because of term limits but has been considering a run for Michigan governor in 2018.

Howard Wolfson, a political adviser to Mr. Bloomberg, said the ads were also intended to put attorneys general “on notice” that attention would be paid to their actions.

Mr. Bloomberg, who is the United Nations secretary general’s special envoy for climate change and cities, has since 2011 a spent $60 million on a campaign called Beyond Coal, founded by the Sierra Club in 2002 as a grass-roots effort. Their work has escalated in scope and in funding after the failure of the cap-and-trade bill in 2010 in the Senate.

The former mayor said he was not concerned about the possibility of political pushback in the form of rival ads from figures in the coal industry, which include the billionaire oil magnates Charles and David Koch.

People can’t “go through life afraid to say something,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “We do live in partisan times.”

Mr. Bloomberg would not offer a guess as to how many other attorneys general he might target, but said his goal is to “send a message.”

“I can’t run ads in favor of people I think are doing the right thing or opposed to everyone who isn’t,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “Even I don’t have that kind of money.”