* Billionaire funder of Democratic political candidates and causes
* Major funder of radical environmentalism
* Ran unsuccessfully in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary
Born in New York City on June 27, 1957, Tom Steyer holds a BA in economics and political science from Yale University, and an MBA from Stanford University. In 1977 he volunteered for Mario Cuomo’s unsuccessful campaign for mayor of New York, and six years later he worked on Democrat Walter Mondale’s failed presidential bid.
Steyer launched his career in finance in 1979 with Morgan Stanley, and then worked as a risk-arbitrage-department associate for Goldman Sachs from 1983-85. In 1985 he moved from New York to California and became a partner at the private equity firm Hellman & Freidman. He has held that position ever since.
In March 1986 Steyer founded the San Francisco-based hedge fund Farallon Capital Management. That same year, he married Bay Area native Kathryn “Kat” Ann Taylor, with whom he subsequently created and funded OneCalifornia Bank (now known as One PacificCoast Bank), an Oakland-based institution that caters specifically to “underserved” small businesses, communities, and individuals.
The Washington Free Beacon reports that “in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Farallon was involved in illicit attempts to capitalize on the economic liberalization of [Russia],” adding:
“The U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) formed an agreement with Harvard University’s Institute of International Development (HIID) in the mid-1990s to guide the former Soviet Union country towards a market economy. Harvard economist Andrei Shleifer and Jonathan Hay, a top HIID advisor, were the two officials charged with spearheading the project. Shleifer and Hay advised the Russian government on the privatization of more than 200,000 corporations, the issuance of government debt, and the construction of financial institutions to integrate the nation into the global economy.
“The two HIID officials were privy to vast inside knowledge of the restructuring of the Russian economy. The U.S. government would later charge them both with using that knowledge to enrich themselves, in violation of USAID conflict-of-interest agreements. Harvard would eventually shutter the HIID following the scandal. Farallon provided the investment vehicle for a number of those schemes and was also the target of legal action by the U.S. government for its role.”
In 2007, Steyer and his wife founded a community development bank called Beneficial State Bank, for the purpose of “providing loans to individuals who would normally be excluded by traditional banks.” Its operations subsequently spread also to the states of Oregon and Washington.
During the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, Steyer initially supported Hillary Clinton‘s candidacy but later became one of Barack Obama’s most prolific financial backers. In March 2013, Steyer hosted a major Obama fundraiser in his San Francisco home.
Steyer gave a speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, saying that the election pitting Democrat incumbent Barack Obama against Republican challenger Mitt Romney was “a choice about whether to go backward or forward. And that choice is especially stark when it comes to energy.”
In the 2013-14 election cycle, Steyer was the leading individual political donor in the United States, giving—in conjunction with his wife—some $20.4 million to Democratic and leftist causes.
Over the years, Steyer has also spent large sums of money to either support or oppose various state-ballot initiatives in California.
Steyer adamantly rejects “a strain in American capitalism where people believe that they have made the money on their own, basically working single-handedly as an individual to create wealth for themselves…. [T]hey are the beneficiaries of literally over a thousand years of people creating a system and sacrificing.”
From the start of Barack Obama’s presidency, Steyer strongly supported Obama’s desire to raise personal tax rates on high earners, stating that such a measure would help Americans “get back to a sense of shared national purpose and that we are connected and responsible for each other.” “The taxes proposed by Obama,” Steyer said in 2008, “seem completely consistent with the idea [that] we would actually try to do something together as opposed to scratching out the most for ourselves as individuals.”
In 2011 Steyer co-founded Next Generation (NG), an organization that uses research, policy development, and strategic communications to address what it characterizes as the “dangerous climate change” that “confront[s] the next generation of Americans.” Depicting global warming as the “defining issue of our generation,” Steyer today serves on NG’s governing board.
In 2012 Steyer founded Advanced Energy Economy, a group that works with businesses to “make energy secure, clean and affordable.” That same year, Steyer and his wife founded the TomKat Center, a renewable-energy research center at Stanford University.
In October 2012 Steyer announced that he was leaving Farallon in order to focus more intently on political activism—especially the promotion of alternative energy. But the San Diego Reader reported that despite Steyer’s passionate rhetoric emphasizing the need to replace fossil-fuel-based energy with solar- and wind-based technologies, Farallon was still heavily invested in several companies that provided energy derived from coal and oil. According to blogger John Hinderaker, for example, “few people in American history have made more money from investment in thermal coal than Mr. Steyer.” Indeed, during Steyer’s tenure as founder and senior partner of Farallon, his firm was the major funder of the growth in thermal coal production in Australia and many parts of Asia.
Also while Steyer was Farallon’s senior managing partner, the firm owned some $440 million worth of stock in ten oil and gas companies—all of which stood to benefit financially if the construction of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline could be derailed. In 2013 alone, Steyer donated $1.8 million to a super PAC supporting anti-Keystone political candidates, and he spent another $1 million creating an advertising campaign criticizing Keystone.
According to author Peter Schweizer: “Under Steyer’s watch, Farallon Capital invested in coal plants in China, Indonesia, even Australia…. All told, the coal mines increased their production by more than 70 million tons of coal since getting investment from Steyer.”
PowerLineBlog.com provides additional examples of Steyer’s hypocrisy vis-a-vis fossil fuels:
In March 2017, Breitbart.com reported that Steyer’s Farallon Capital Management “in 2008 invested in Geotech Oil Services, one of the largest oilfield service companies in Russia,” and that two years later “Steyer sold part of his holding to the Volga Group, a privately held investment group that manages assets on behalf of Russian oligarch and [Vladimir] Putin confidante Gennady Timchenko.” Also according to Breitbart, Timchenko — believed to have been a former KGB colleague of Putin — “was specifically named by the U.S. Department of the Treasury as being among ‘[t]hose being designated for acting for, or on behalf of, or materially assisting, sponsoring, or providing … support for … a senior official of the Government of the Russian Federation.” The Treasury Department, for its part, noted that “Timchenko’s activities in the energy sector have been directly linked to Putin.’”
Embarrassed by the public revelation (in late 2012) that he had derived much of his $1.6 billion fortune from investments in fossil-fuel companies, Steyer vowed to “immediately get off coal” and “move to something … where we are not causing massive destruction.” But his divestment from the coal industry did not occur overnight. Not until April 2014, in fact, did Steyer announce: “I have directed my financial team to divest my holdings of coal investments so that I will have a coal-free portfolio.” Two months later, he reiterated that he had decided to “chart a different course” and no longer invest in coal. Steyer further indicated that his “priorities” had changed as a result of a “Paul-on-the-Road-to-Damascus conversion” regarding the dangers posed by climate change; that “the price of inaction is too high”; that “the time to act politically to avert climate disaster has arrived”; and that he was “now in a position to formally announce that—as of June 30th—my personal investments will be 100% divested from fossil fuels.”
Steyer was a major financial backer of Greener Capital, a company that invested in alternative-fuel companies that were poised to benefit from Obama administration policies harmful to the oil and coal industries. In 2013 Steyer told a gathering of activists and policymakers at his home, that alternative-energy investments represented “a big business opportunity” and “a chance to make a lot of money.”
In October 2013, Steyer and fellow billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Henry Paulson commissioned the Rhodium Group, an economic research firm that specializes in analyzing disruptive global trends, to produce a 50-page report titled Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States. Designed to pressure corporations to adopt anti-climate-change measures, the report was released in June 2014 and was replete with dire predictions of natural catastrophes such as a two-to-four-foot rise in sea levels by the end of the 21st century. Also participating in the project were “Risk Committee” members Henry Cisneros, Gregory Page, Robert Rubin, Donna Shalala, George Shultz, Olympia Snowe, and Alfred Sommer.
Through his NextGen Climate Action political committee, Steyer in 2013 supported the gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Toward that end, Steyer funded get-out-the-vote efforts as well as ads portraying McAuliffe’s Republican rival, Ken Cuccinelli, as an extreme anti-environmentalist.
In the 2014 election cycle, Steyer pledged to donate $100 million—half from himself and half from his political allies—to fund the campaigns of Democratic candidates who opposed the Keystone pipeline and favored “green” energy over fossil fuels. By the time the election cycle was over, Steyer had personally given more than $74 million to Democratic congressional and gubernatorial campaigns — nearly three times as much as the $27.7 million that the second-leading donor, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had contributed.
During the 2016 election cycle, Steyer spent $87 million in support of his preferred candidates and causes. When Republican Donald Trump won the presidency in November 2016, Steyer said: “The world did not play out on November 8 the way I expected it to, and I want to make sure whatever I do is well considered and responds to the reality of what’s going on. I’m still intending to do the most impactful service I can in terms of standing up for the values I care most about.”
In May 2017 Steyer was a guest speaker at an “ideas conference” organized by the Center for American Progress, held in a basement of Georgetown’s Four Season’s Hotel. Its stated purpose was to focus on “new, fresh, bold, provocative ideas that can move us forward.” Steyer focused on the need to address what he described as catastrophic climate change brought about by the greenhouse gas emissions associated with human industrial activity. He and each of his fellow speakers also emphasized that it was vital to resist the Trump agenda while defending the legacy and achievements of Obama.
In October 2017, Steyer announced that he was launching a $10 million national advertising campaign titled “Join Us,” calling for President Trump’s impeachment on grounds that he was unfit for office. Said Steyer in the ad: “He’s brought us to the brink of nuclear war, obstructed justice at the FBI, and in direct violation of the Constitution, has taken money from foreign governments and threatened to shut down news organizations that report the truth. If that isn’t a case for impeaching and removing a dangerous president, then what has our government become?… People in Congress and his own administration know this president is a clear and present danger who is mentally unstable and armed with nuclear weapons, and they do nothing.”
In August 2019, Steyer pledged to spend another $10 million on his ad campaign to impeach President Trump.
Speaking at an October 2019 town hall event at a Philadelphia prison, Steyer told an audience of former criminal convicts that he had launched his initiative to promote the impeachment of President Donald Trump because he viewed Trump as a “crook” who “also happens to be a racist.” “He believes because he is rich and powerful that he doesn’t have to obey the law,” said Steyer. “And white… and it’s not right.” “Does anyone in this room think President Obama could have done [with impunity] any of the [bad] things this man [Trump] has done?” Steyer asked, adding: “[T]here is an assumption … of privilege here that is so deep and offensive and so wrong. He’s assuming he’s privileged to be above the law.”
In a January 2, 2020 appearance on CNN’s New Day program, Steyer discussed the impeachment charges that the Democrat-dominated House of Representatives had recently brought against President Trump, and he laid out his vision of how the upcoming Senate impeachment trial should proceed. “What I’m pushing for now,” said Steyer, “is to have every one of those Trump administration officials testify on TV under oath about what happened” during the infamous July 25, 2019 telephone conversation between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “What I was asking for,” added Steyer, “was televised interviews of those people so the American people could see without any control from either MSNBC or Fox News of exactly what happened. And this president and his administration have continued to obstruct justice by refusing to actually come in front of the American people and tell the truth.”
When Democrat Andrew Gillum was running for governor in Florida in 2018, Steyer strongly endorsed him that August: “As we battle for the heart and soul of this nation, Andrew Gillum is the kind of leader we need on the front lines. He’s someone we can trust to do the right thing, to put the people before the powerful and who is unafraid to stand up for justice, now when we need it most.” On another occasion in August 2018, Steyer said of Gillum: “He’s a really unusual candidate … [W]e have such high regard for him, for the ideas he represents and what he can do for Florida.”
On July 9, 2019, Steyer announced that he was entering the primary race for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination. He committed himself to spending $100 million in the race.
Below are a number of the key planks in Steyer’s presidential platform:
During a December 2019 Democrat presidential debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Steyer vowed that if he were to be elected president, he would promptly declare a state of emergency vis-a-vis the climate “crisis” facing the United States. “I am hoping that we, in fact, that we will do what I am suggesting that we do, which is declare a state of emergency on day one of my presidency,” he said. “I believe I am the only person here who will say unequivocally this is my number one priority. I know that we have to deal with this crisis. I know that we have to deal with it from the standpoint of environmental justice.” Steyer then asserted that he had previously “taken on oil companies and beaten them on environmental laws,” “pushed clean energy across this country,” and “prevented pipelines and fossil fuel plants.” He also emphasized the need to clean up “the air and water in the black and brown communities where our pollution is concentrated,” explaining that such an endeavor would create “millions of middle-class union jobs.” In short, Steyer’s plan was designed to increase the number of labor union members who would be likely, in political elections, to support the Democratic Party — which had made the creation of jobs to combat man-made “climate change” a centerpiece of its platform. His plan was also designed to redistribute massive sums of money from American taxpayers to low-income nonwhite minorities, who allegedly were suffering the most from the effects of pollution. That redistribution would come in the form of publicly funded jobs where workers could do things like retrofit existing buildings with thermal windows, weather stripping, solar panels, etc. In other words, Steyer’s aim was to transfer money from the rich to the poor, all in the guise of environmental protection.
When his presidential campaign failed to gain traction with voters, Steyer announced on February 29, 2020 that he was dropping out of the race. “We live in a country that is deeply unjust economically where rich people have been profiting at the expense of everybody else,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “And I didn’t get in this race and start talking about things to get votes. I was in this race to talk about things that I cared the most about.”
Since 1990, Steyer has donated enormous sums of money to dozens of Democratic political candidates including such notables as Pete Aguilar, Tammy Baldwin, Barbara Boxer, Sherrod Brown, Matt Cartwright, Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, Dianne Feinstein, Pramila Jayapal, David Loebsack, Terry McAuliffe, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Martin O’Malley, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Sestak, Donna Shalala, Kyrsten Sinema, and Maxine Waters. Steyer also raised money for the presidential campaigns of Democrats Bill Bradley in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, and he served as a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 2004 and 2008. Moreover, he has raised money for the Young Democrats Of America, Latino Victory PAC, One Voice, and Democracy Engine.
Steyer is a former board member of the Center for American Progress.
Steyer is a member of the Democracy Alliance.
Steyer currently sits on the Stanford University board of trustees.
Steyer and his wife helped establish OneRoof, an organization that helps rural students and residents in India gain access to computer technology.
Steyer serves on the advisory council of the Hamilton Project, an initiative that produces policy proposals geared toward “fostering economic growth and broad participation in that growth, by enhancing individual economic security, and by embracing a role for effective government in making needed public investments.”
On occasion, Steyer has collaborated with environmentalist Bill McKibben on campaigns to pressure university endowments to divest entirely from coal equities.
For additional information on Tom Steyer, click here.