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By Evan Halper, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid resumed his polemic against the Koch brothers Tuesday, Republicans were quick to respond, noting they are not the only ones with a generous billionaire in their corner.

The debate on the Senate floor quickly turned to Tom Steyer, the former San Francisco hedge fund manager who is seizing on the same loose campaign finance laws as Charles and David Koch to funnel millions of dollars into campaigns. Only in the case of Steyer, profiled recently in the Los Angeles Times as the emerging liberal counterweight to the Kochs, the spending is geared toward defeating candidates skeptical of global warming.

“I noted with interest the majority leader was hammering the Koch brothers again today, and I wondered why he left out billionaire Tom Steyer, who plans to spend as much as $100 million pushing the issue of climate change in the 2014 election and appears positioned to rival the deep-pocketed Koch brothers,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “It strikes me as curious that if we are going to demonize people for exercising their constitutional rights to go out and speak and participate in the political process, we would just pick out the people that are opposed to us and leave out the people who are in favor of us.”

The remarks came after Reid spoke for more than 10 minutes about how Senate Republicans are “addicted to Koch.” Reid has ratcheted up his attacks on the billionaire Republican contributors amid Democratic concern that spending by groups the Kochs fund could cost the party its Senate majority.

Last Wednesday, the Nevada Democrat delivered two floor speeches questioning the veracity of new advertisements from Koch-backed groups that feature individuals sharing stories about hardships they say they have faced because of the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is leading an effort to counter what Democrats say is a misinformation campaign against the law.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Murphy said the Kochs are in a different category than the California billionaire.

“I certainly understand the concern of those on the Republican side about an individual who has proposed to spend a certain amount of money supporting a global warming cause,” he said. “But it pales in comparison to the money already spent by the Koch brothers, who poured hundreds of millions of dollars and will continue to pour hundreds of millions of these dollars into these races, completely dwarfing any amount of money spent on the other side.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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