Elections

Who is Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer?

Tom Steyer: Congress refusing to take stand on impeaching Trump

Tom Steyer, founder of Need to Impeach, says Congress isn't doing its job in overseeing President Donald Trump. He is calling for impeachment, which is creating a rift within the Democratic Party.
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Tom Steyer, founder of Need to Impeach, says Congress isn't doing its job in overseeing President Donald Trump. He is calling for impeachment, which is creating a rift within the Democratic Party.

For much of his life in Democratic politics, Tom Steyer has sought to be a kingmaker rather than wear the crown.

The 62-year-old billionaire hedge fund manager-turned-activist is best known for using parts of his sizable fortune to fund a recent carousel of candidates and causes: addressing climate change, impeaching President Donald Trump and backing dozens of progressive politicians around the country, including 2018 Florida gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum.

He’s now banking on that personal wealth giving him an unprecedented financial boost as he seeks public office himself. On Tuesday, Steyer said he would run for president in an announcement video posted online, saying he would run “to end corruption of our democracy by corporations and give more power to the American people.” He cast himself as an outsider who could tackle a broken political system and would seek to hold “the power elite in Washington, D.C.,” accountable.

Though he has used his funds to bolster other politicians, Steyer has never sought elected office before. He weighed running in his now home state of California for governor or the U.S. House but then didn’t. He even publicly ruled out running for president earlier this year, saying at the time he thought his efforts were better focused on trying to impeach Trump rather than replace him.

Steyer did not explicitly say what prompted his change of heart, but a spokesman told The New York Times that he intends to sink at least $100 million into his presidential run, vastly more than his opponents have so far raised.

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In his run, Steyer easily draws comparison in some ways to Trump and his unexpected 2016 run: a businessman, also raised in New York City, promising to challenge an entrenched system of powerful special interests with a populist message of change.

But Steyer’s biography departs from Trump’s in several ways, not least in where they ended up. Brought up by a longtime public school teacher and a Wall Street lawyer, Steyer studied at Yale and Stanford and worked briefly on Wall Street for Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, before moving west and joining a private equity firm in San Francisco. It didn’t take long for Steyer to then strike out on his own in 1986 to found his own firm, Farallon Capital, named for a group of islands off California’s northern coast.

The islands Steyer named his business for are known by some sailors as the Devil’s Teeth Islands and draw migratory great white sharks every year. The namesake hedge fund courted similar risk in financial waters, developing a reputation for betting on distressed assets to turn profits, according to a CNN profile of Steyer in 2008. The firm also directed hundreds of millions to companies running coal mines and power plants across the globe under Steyer’s stewardship, The New York Times reported in 2014.

Those risks paid off for Steyer, who used the firm and just $15 million in starting capital to build the foundation of what became billions in sprawling wealth.

But Steyer has also sought to focus on a host of charitable and political causes in recent years. He has touted a pledge to give away half his wealth during his lifetime, and he stepped down from running his firm in 2012 to found the progressive group NextGen Climate (now known as NextGen America) the following year to encourage political action combating climate change.

Around that time, he also began investing more of his personal wealth into political campaigns and races, including opposing a state proposition in California that would have rolled back the state’s global warming law. He has donated nearly $248 million across the country to political campaigns according to an Open Secrets tally — more than any other Democratic donor and second only to Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and his family.

Among his choice battlegrounds has been Florida, where Steyer’s NextGen America group has spent nearly $30 million on campaigns since 2014 and registered more than 52,000 voters last year. Steyer was also an early backer of former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign and pitched in more than $5 million to help finance his run.

But Steyer’s first foray as a candidate himself will require overcoming a handful of obstacles, some posed by his late entry into the race. Steyer, for all his millions poured into Democratic campaigns in recent years, has little public name recognition and will need to build his reputation among voters if he hopes to credibly compete with about two dozen other candidates in the Democratic primary.

Steyer is also stepping down from running his two political groups, though his campaign said Tuesday he will continue to financially support NextGen’s political efforts funding Democratic races in the state.

About Tom Steyer

Current or most recent position: Founder of political groups NextGen America and Need to Impeach.

Other elected offices: None.

Occupation: Former hedge fund manager, political activist.

Education: Yale University, bachelor’s degree in economics and political science; Stanford University, MBA

Age: 62

Residence: San Francisco.

Family: Wife Kathryn; children Samuel, Charles Augustus (“Gus”), Evelyn, Henry

Campaign website: https://www.tomsteyer.com/

Fun fact: According to a 2014 profile with Men’s Journal, Steyer has coffee mugs in his San Francisco home made to resemble each of “his many beloved dogs, living and dead.”

On the issues: Steyer has been vocal on climate change and increasing voter turnout through his political group NextGen America and poured millions into Need to Impeach, a group pushing Congress to remove President Donald Trump.

Sources of biographical information: Tom Steyer campaign site, OpenSecrets, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Men’s Journal

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