Meet the Candidates 2020: Tom Steyer


Electing a rich guy from New York with no obvious qualifications to be president is going so swimmingly, why not try it again? That’s the apparent logic behind native Upper East Sider, retired hedge funder, and anti-Trump commercial-maker Tom Steyer’s campaign for president. 

If you recognize Steyer’s Martha’s Vineyard-issue white-person looks, it’s probably because he’s, like Trump, a man who likes the look of his own face on TV telling you what’s what. For years he’s been starring in a ubiquitous series of self-financed anti-Trump not-technically-campaign-but-also-100%-definitely-campaign commercials. In fact, Steyer has essentially been running for president for years. That’s probably why he could state unequivocally in January of 2019 that he wasn’t running for president but announce his candidacy on July 9th, 2019 anyway.

Steyer is a Democratic mega-donor who left his hedge fund Farallon Capital back in 2012 to get involved in environmental issues and politics, which is a fancy of way of saying “become idly rich in a way that sounds helpful.” He’s the founder of advocacy organization NextGen America and spent nearly $100 million in the 2016 cycle, a number that has only been outdone by a select group of Sheldon Adelsons. It was a bad investment to be sure - Dems lost bad that year - but it was in some ways also best investment in history because what Steyer lost in money (spent) he gained (untaxed). Isn’t being rich fun? And it’s not all just making bad bets on mediocre politicians. Other things have made Tom Steyer money too! Investing big on private prisons and coal during his time at Farallon, for example.

Steyer much too rich for any reasonable person to be entertaining the idea of donating to, and yet somehow he successfully met the 130,000 donor threshold to qualify for the third and fourth Democratic debates by asking donors for just $1. You still wont see him on the debate stage because he didn’t end up qualifying for other reasons - namely that he didn’t find enough support in the polls, which is a little embarrassing considering he’s outspent nearly every other candidate on media and advertising. But don’t worry about him - this is chump change. An activity fund, if you will. His estimated net worth is $1.6 billion (or possibly much more) and he told the New York Times that he was planning to spend $100 million of his own money on the primary so we have a ways to go. (For some perspective that’s more than Biden, Buttigieg, Warren, Sanders, and Harris raised in the second quarter of 2019 combined.)

Steyer’s sort of vague on many of the issues aside from his top priorities: impeaching Trump and fighting climate change. He’s also into structural political reforms like imposing term limits on members of Congress and creating a referendum process at the national level (let us offer a hearty “no, thanks” from referendum and proposition-burdened California). But Steyer’s main intention here is likely just to influence the national debate on these issues. Still, it’d be nice if rich guys stopping thinking we need another rich guy to save us from the idiot rich guy who is currently in office. Also don’t give your hard-earned cash to a guy who can afford to pay his own team of lobbyists. That’s some patented © BTL financial advice from us to you.