The Koch Brothers Have a Lot to Learn if They Want to Be Genuine Villains

Maybe Tom Steyer can teach them a thing or two:

The psychiatric world defines “projection” as the act of denying unpleasant qualities in yourself, while attributing them to others. Consider liberal billionaire Tom Steyer’s riff this week about the libertarian billionaire Koch brothers.

Mr. Steyer took exception in a C-SPAN interview to comparisons between his big-dollar funding of Democrats with the Koch brothers’ big-dollar funding of Republicans. The Kochs’ priorities “line up perfectly with their pocketbooks—and that’s not true for us,” said Mr. Steyer, who is fighting against the Keystone XL pipeline. Moreover, he insisted, his politicking is “completely open,” whereas the Kochs have “not been huge embracers of transparency.”

Why is Mr. Steyer so touchy about motives and transparency? The media tend to give liberal spending a pass, since they assume its motives and aims are pure. Mr. Steyer’s problem—and he knows it—is that his own purity remains hugely suspect, even among his allies.

It’s old news that the billionaire reaped his fortune at hedge fund Farallon Capital, via investments in “dirty” oil and coal projects. Mr. Steyer, who retired from the firm in late 2012, has since publicly repented for his prior investment ways. But what many greens remember is that he didn’t do so until he was caught.

Mr. Steyer had spent months fighting Keystone, attending anti-coal rallies and urging colleges to divest from “fossil fuels,” before the press noted that his money was still parked at Farallon, still profiting from Kinder Morgan pipelines and coal projects. It was only then, last July, that Mr. Steyer issued a press release saying he’d directed his money be moved to a fund that didn’t invest in “tar sands” or “coal” and pledged this process would be complete by the end of 2013.

And don’t think that environmentalists failed to notice Mr. Steyer’s specific divestment instructions. He did not say in that July press release that he was pulling his money from “fossil fuels”—only tar sands and coal. That may be because Mr. Steyer as recently as 2012 wrote an op-ed in this newspaper supporting more natural-gas extraction, and last year (as the Keystone debate raged) he helped fund a University of Texas study that supported fracking. Farallon over the years has held positions in natural-gas companies.

Surprising precisely no one, Koch-addicts like Harry Reid, who have made attacking the Kochs into something of a cottage industry, have nothing whatsoever to say about Steyer’s many conflicts of interests, and the ethical problems that come with them.