BOSTON (AP) — California billionaire Thomas Steyer's threat to launch negative attacks against U.S. Senate candidate Stephen Lynch if the Massachusetts congressman doesn't reverse his position on the Keystone XL Pipeline came under renewed criticism Wednesday from Lynch's campaign as well as that of his Democratic rival.
Steyer, an environmental activist and longtime Democratic donor, issued the ultimatum to Lynch in a letter this week. He said if Lynch did not denounce Keystone by Friday, he would begin an "aggressive public education campaign" against the South Boston Democrat.
Lynch supports the proposed $7 billion pipeline, while U.S. Rep. Edward Markey opposes it. The two are seeking the Democratic nomination to run in the special election for the Senate seat formerly held by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Critics of the pipeline that would run from western Canada to Texas say it would carry "dirty oil" that contributes to global warming.
Scott Ferson, a senior campaign adviser to Lynch, lashed out at Steyer on Wednesday, noting that Farallon Capital Management, the investment firm Steyer founded, purchased shares of BP after the disastrous 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and owned $40 million in the company's stock at the end of last year.
"He has the audacity to call himself an environmentalist and threaten members of Congress?" Ferson said of Steyer, adding in a statement that Lynch would not take orders from "billionaires or radical environmentalists."
The Markey campaign said Wednesday it rejected the threats made against Lynch if he did not change his position on Keystone, suggesting the attacks could violate the spirit of an agreement between the two candidates that discourages advertising by outside groups.
Christopher Lehane, a spokesman for Steyer, said the planned actions did not include advertising and would comply with the agreement.
The effort would include the release of reports highlighting Lynch's stance on environmental issues, along with "guerrilla marketing tools" that would encourage voting in the April 30 Democratic primary, with a focus on college students, Lehane said in an email.
In response to Lynch's criticism of the BP investments, Lehane said that among the reasons cited by Steyer when he stepped down from Farallon last year was that — by definition — the hedge fund invested in every sector of the global economy, including oil and coal.
Steyer has donated millions to his alma maters, Yale and Stanford universities, for research into sustainable energy, and he co-founded a nonprofit organization to promote alternative energy companies.
In 2010, he worked to defeat a California ballot initiative that would have postponed implementation of a law requiring reduced greenhouse gas emissions. He also poured more than $30 million into a successful effort last year to close a tax loophole that benefited out-of-state corporations.
Steyer filed papers with the Federal Election Commission last week creating a new political action committee. The Regeneration PAC intended to raise funds to make independent expenditures in political races but would not make direct contributions to candidates, according to the filing.