Clean energy billionaire challenges Vitter to donate to charity

Billionaire clean energy philanthropist Tom Steyer took his feud with U.S. Sen. David Vitter to the next level Monday.

Steyer challenged the Republican senator to donate to charity the more than $1 million Vitter has received over the years in political contributions from fossil fuel interests.

Steyer, a former hedge fund manager from California, took Vitter to task after the Louisiana senator last month accused Steyer on Fox News of “hypocrisy” for opposing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, after amassing much of his wealth from investments in the energy sector.

“I challenge you to demonstrate that your support of the fossil fuel industry, including your willingness to be a go-to ‘yes’ man for tar sands projects like Keystone, is in no way connected to the more than one-million dollars in campaign money that you have raised from the fossil fuel industry,” Steyer wrote to Vitter.

Vitter, who is the ranking GOP member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, declined comment on Steyer’s challenge on Monday.

Steyer’s letter also stated: “I challenge you to divest yourself of any tainted financial benefits by contributing the $1,135,792.00 your campaigns for federal office have received from the fossil fuel industry to a charitable community cause of your choice in Louisiana.

“I suggest supporting the victims of the BP oil spill, the continuing efforts to support the state’s recovery from the extreme weather of Hurricane Katrina, or those hard working Louisiana citizens economically impacted by the Mississippi River drought last year,” the letter continued.

Steyer is one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas, arguing it will hurt the environment and allegedly drive up U.S. gas prices through the manipulation of the oil supply.

Steyer has contended his portfolio is being divested and placed in a fund that does not invest in either tar sands or coal. The divestment is expected to be complete by the end of the year, according to Steyer.

Steyer also pledged Monday to donate 100 percent of his personal profits from those investments to the victims of the wildfires in Arizona and other areas.

Vitter on Fox News previously had suggested that Steyer may be timing his divestments with the potential defeat of the pipeline proposal in order to maximize his profits.

In 2010, Steyer joined billionaires such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates in pledging to give away the majority of their fortunes to charitable causes.

Steyer could not be reached for comment on Monday, but his spokesman, Chris Lehane, said they challenged Vitter specifically after Vitter chose to criticize Steyer on national television.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and the other Republican members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation are all vocal supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline as well.