In an act that gives political thuggery a bad name, hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, whose 2012 ballot measure raised California business taxes by a billion dollars, has decided his next cause is to blackmail a candidate for the US Senate in Massachusetts.

Californians will remember Steyer for his Proposition 39 on the November ballot that raised business taxes to pay for “green” energy projects, although there is serious question whether the Proposition 39 money is being spent on clean energy or on balancing Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget.

But now Steyer has a new environmental cause, and that is killing the 1,700 mile Keystone XL pipeline that is intended to transport Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast for refining.  Tar sands oil is the new Great Satan for the environmental movement.  Robert Kennedy, Jr., perhaps tar sands oil’s most vocal opponent, was arrested in February for blocking an entrance to the White House to pressure President Obama to oppose the pipeline.

Steyer has joined this cause and pledged to spend some millions of his dollars to defeat a Senate candidate in Massachusetts who supports the pipeline.  But he has done this in a way that can only be described as political blackmail.  On March 18, he wrote to Rep. Steven Lynch (D-Massachusetts), a candidate in the Massachusetts special election to fill the seat of Secretary of State John Kerry, “We are asking you, Congressman Lynch, today to do one of two things by high noon on Friday, March 22. Either act like a real Democrat and oppose Keystone’s dirty energy. Or, get a sworn, binding statement – with securities law enforcement – from TransCanada and the refiners that all of the Keystone-shipped oil will stay here.”

Should Congressman Lynch not do as told, Steyer promised that his group would then “immediately launch an aggressive public education campaign, including investigative reports about your record.”

Lynch, a feisty working class Democrat, did not take the threat lying down, and immediately fired back at Steyer, “There’s a point in the movie ‘High Noon’ when Gary Cooper says to his deputy, ‘Don’t shove me, Harv. I’m tired of being shoved.’ I was reminded of that line this week when I received a letter from a radical hedge fund billionaire threatening to launch an attack on me if I didn’t accede to his demands by ‘high noon on Friday.’ Tom Steyer of California is demanding that I either repudiate my support for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, or secure a commitment from TransCanada that all the oil in the pipeline be kept in the United States — a violation of US treaty obligations.

“While most people in Massachusetts are worried about whether they can pay their rent or their student loans next month, out-of-state billionaires like Steyer spend tens of millions — more than most working people will earn in their entire lifetime — telling them how to vote. I think most Americans are tired of being shoved.”

Steyer’s intrusion in the Senate race led Lynch’s Democratic opponent and the supposed beneficiary of Steyer’s assault, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), to also tell him to butt out.  “As I stated when I first learned about Tom Steyer’s demands on Monday, these kinds of tactics have no place in our political discourse and should be repudiated,” said Markey in a statement reported by Boston papers. “Mr. Steyer should immediately withdraw his threats and ultimatum, and stay out of this Senate race.”

Steyer’s California-based consultant, Chris Lahane, said Friday that Steyer would continue spending money against Lynch. Steyer can spend his money against Lynch through a Super PAC similar to what he used in the 2012 campaign, but how much he will actually spend remains to be seen.

Congressman Lynch is given little chance of prevailing in the Democratic primary even without Steyer’s attacks on him because he harkens back to a Democratic Party that is no more.  Lynch is a socially conservative (he opposes abortion) Democrat who thinks government should be creating blue collar jobs for working people, a throwback to the “pour the concrete” New Deal lunch bucket Democrats that have nearly disappeared from the party.

Congressman Markey, on the other hand, is a traditional liberal environmentalist Democrat; in 2009 he teamed up with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California) to push a national cap and trade bill that helped sink the Democrats in white working class districts and played a major role in the Democratic loss of the House of Representatives in 2010.  But the polls show him ahead in the Senate race.

Despite Steyer threats on the issue, the case against the pipeline is actually quite weak.  The US Senate just endorsed its construction, and a long awaited 2,000 page US State Department analysis raised no objections to Keystone, noting that if it were not built the oil instead would be transported by train or by a Canadian pipeline to Canada’s west coast.

There the Chinese are salivating at the opportunity to ship the Canadian tar sands oil to China, which of course could have a much more drastic environmental impact than refining it in America.  Nevertheless, Steyer’s involvement in this Senate campaign shows that the Democratic Party is as much infected with fanatical extremists and political absolutists as is the Republican Party.