Tom Steyer

individual

Overview

  • Billionaire funder of Democratic political candidates and causes
  • Major funder of radical environmentalism
  • Ran in the Democratic presidential primary for the 2020 nomination

Background

Born in New York City in 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.

Supporting Clinton, Obama, & the Democrats from 2008 to 2014

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.

Funding State-Ballot Initiatives in California

Over the years, Steyer has also spent large sums of money to either support or oppose various state-ballot initiatives in California.

  • In 2008 Steyer and his wife spent $40 million to create the TomKat Ranch for Sustainable Energy in Pescadero, California. Using solar energy in order to maintain a “small carbon footprint,” this cattle ranch eschewed the use of antibiotics, hormones, or any chemicals that might have “an adverse impact on the health of our ecosystem.”
  • In 2008 Steyer spent $25,000 in support of California’s Proposition 2, which sought to prohibit the inhumane confinement of farm animals.
  • In 2008, Steyer spent at least $177,000 on a successful campaign to keep the California Presidential Electoral College Reform Initiative – which would have eliminated the existing winner-take-all system by which the state apportioned electoral college votes – off the ballot.
  • In 2010 Steyer gave millions of dollars to an initiative that: (a) successfully prevented the repeal of Assembly Bill 32, a law aimed at reducing California’s greenhouse gases, and (b) advocated the imposition of new taxes on multi-state corporations in order to raise money for energy-saving projects.
  • In 2010 Steyer joined dozens of other multi-millionaires and billionaires in ceremoniously signing a Giving Pledge, where each signatory vowed to donate at least half of his or her fortune to charity. Other signers included Stephen Bing, Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Peter Lewis, T. Boone Pickens, and Mark Zuckerberg.
  • In 2010 Steyer spent $5 million opposing Proposition 23, which aimed to suspend California’s “Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.”
  • In 2010, Steyer spent $1 million on an unsuccessful effort to defeat Proposition 26, which barred the California General Assembly from passing any new taxes or fees – most notably fees designed to limit carbon emissions – without a supermajority vote in favor of doing so.
  • In 2012 Steyer gave more than $32 million to the successful “Yes on Prop. 39” effort to close a tax loophole that had theretofore benefited out-of state corporations.

Deriding Capitalism and Advocating High Taxes

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.”

Steyer’s Rhetoric About Alternative Energy, vs. His Investments in Fossil Fuels

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 October 2003, Farallon funded Indonesia’s Bakrie Group’s $500 million purchase of PT Kaltim Prima Coal from Rio and BP.
  • In 2004 and 2006, Farallon gave enormous financial backing to an Indonesian consortium that purchased — for $279 million — a 90% stake in PT Berau Coal, an Indonesian thermal coal producer. When PT Berau Coal was subsequently sold to another Indonesian investor, Farallon in 2010 sued that investor in order to obtain a 3% equity stake in PT Berau Coal that Farallon claimed to be entitled to.
  • In 2008 Farallon purchased an 18% stake in India Bulls Power, one of India’s top power developers, for approximately $158 million.
  • In a 2010 transaction initiated personally by Steyer, Farallon provided $455 million in financing to help Australian entrepreneur Nathan Tinkler acquire, for $480 million, the Maules Creek coal mine in Australia. Indeed Farallon was one of Tinkler’s leading financiers.
  • In 2012 Farallon earned a large profit from the sale of its investment in Meiya Power — a major Chinese coal-fired power producer — to the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Company.
  • In June 2013, Farallon acquired a direct stake in Whitehaven Coal. A representative from Farallon took a position on Whitehaven’s board of directors, and Farallon became one of Whitehaven’s largest shareholders.
  • Under Steyer’s direction, Farallon not only invested in major coal producers, but also in coal-fired power plants.
  • During Steyer’s tenure as Farallon’s senior partner, the company was responsible for providing acquisition and expansion funding to about a half dozen large coal-mine and coal-power-plant buyouts in Australia and Asia.
  • Each year, the coal mines that Steyer funded through Farallon produced about 28% as much CO2 as was produced annually in the U.S. by coal burned for electricity generation.
  • Farallon played a leading role in an investment consortium that purchased — for $378 million — a 41% equity stake in the Indonesian coal producer PT Adaro Coal.

Oil Investment with Connections to Russia & KGB

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.’”

Shamed into Dropping His Fossil Fuel Investments

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.”

Warning of Environmental Catastrophe

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.

Supporting Terry McAuliffe

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.

Supporting Democrats Who Opposed the Keystone Oil Pipeline in 2014

In the 2014 election cycle, Steyer pledged to donate $100 millionhalf 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.

Supporting Democrats in 2016

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.”

“Ideas Conference” Promoting Resistance to President Trump

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.

Advocating the Impeachment of Trump

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.”

Steyer’s 2020 Presidential Campaign & Platform

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:

  • Repeal Citizens United: “Corporations aren’t people, and they shouldn’t be controlling our politics. The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United must be overturned and the public financing of campaigns becomes the law of the land.”[2]
  • Initiate a Vote-At-Home System: “A Vote At Home system would make voting more convenient by providing voters with postage-paid absentee ballots, and would allow voters more time to participate in our democracy, as well as increase overall election security.”
  • Support Important Election Reform Legislation: “The For the People Act (HR 1), the Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the Native American Voting Rights Act need to be signed into law immediately.”[3]
  • Establish Independent Redistricting Commissions: “When partisan elected officials draw district lines, the electoral maps they draw rig the system in their favor and attempt to suppress and dilute the votes in communities of color. We need independent, non-partisan redistricting commissions to draw these boundaries, and eliminate racial gerrymandering.”
  • Justice-Based Pollution Reduction: “Eliminate fossil fuel, asthma-causing and toxic air pollution from all sectors to achieve a 100% clean energy economy and triple federal funding for climate science; research, development, and deployment of advanced clean technology.”
  • A People-Powered Economy: “Issue $250 billion over the course of ten years in new National Healthy Communities Climate Bonds and call on Congress to fully fund the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps, which will create 1 million jobs for Americans.”
  • People Over Profits: “Unchecked capitalism undermines our democracy and hurts too many people. To keep medications affordable, education accessible, and our planet livable, [Tom Steyer’s] plan proposes bold changes, including major structural reform and a wealth tax…. Labor unions are a powerful check on corporations, and Tom will support their right to organize for worker protections, such as a $15/hour minimum wage, an increased earned income tax credit, and expanded retirement benefits.”
  • Affordable Housing: “[C]orporate interests and government corruption have turned America’s real estate industry into a $1.9 trillion business that favors the wealthy and preys on the American people. Tom’s administration will ensure that everyone in America has access to safe and affordable housing. His plan will … broaden pathways to homeownership and offer tax breaks for low-income and middle-class renters. With environmental justice at the center, Tom will correct for historically discriminatory policies that have prevented communities of color from home ownership by building green infrastructure in redlined neighborhoods and introducing laws that protect vulnerable individuals from the destabilizing impacts of gentrification.”
  • Civil Rights: “We must actively call out racism, white nationalism, LGBTQ and gender bias, as well as work to address the disparities still defining too much of American life…. Tom also strongly supports legislation to establish a commission to re-examine the issue of reparations.”
  • Criminal Justice Reform: “America’s criminal justice system perpetuates a system of mass incarceration and punishment, not rehabilitation and restorative justice. This system was built on — and still suffers from — rampant racism…. Tom will work to end cash bail, reduce the prison population, stop the prison pipeline and revolving door, eliminate private prisons, restructure parole and probation, promote better-policing methods and training to reduce police brutality, exercise his clemency powers where appropriate, and increase resources for public defenders and community intervention programs…. Tom will also fight for the rights of those re-entering society by supporting rehabilitation and workforce readiness programs.”
  • Education: “Every American should have the right to a free, quality, public education from universal pre-kindergarten through higher education, including workforce and technical training.”
  • Health Care: “Tom supports a universal [government-run] health care system, including a strong public option that aggressively competes with the private insurance marketplace, drives down costs, and expands coverage.”
  • Immigration: “Tom will work toward comprehensive immigration reform, including re-establishing America as a safe haven for those fleeing persecution and oppression. He will take executive action to reinstate the DACA and TPS programs, reinvigorate our visa system to attract the best and brightest to our schools and companies, invest in smart border security, provide more aid to Central America, and create a path to citizenship for millions of people that contribute to our economy but are currently living in the shadows.”
  • Student Debt: “We must make higher education affordable and available to everyone. Tom will tackle the student debt crisis head-on by forgiving certain types of student loan debt …”
  • Taxes: “Right now, the richest Americans and corporations get to live by a different set of rules than everyone else. That’s fundamentally wrong — we need a tax system that is fair and promotes people over profits. Tom believes that expanding the earned income tax credit, rolling back the Trump administration’s tax cuts, and instituting a wealth tax will begin to solve the massive economic inequality in this country and restore power back to the people.”
  • End Gun Violence: “[E]stablish universal background checks, ban large-capacity magazines and assault weapons, enact red flag laws, close loopholes, create a new Office of Gun Safety and licensing requirements, and provide resources to communities to reduce gun violence.”
  • Women’s Equality: “Tom’s administration will fight for full reproductive justice, workplace policies including pay equity and paid family leave, and equal educational opportunities.”
  • The Right to a Living Wage: “No one should be forced to work more than one full-time job just to survive.”

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.

Miscellaneous

Since 1990, Steyer has donated enormous sums of money to dozens of Democratic political candidates including such notables as Pete Aguilar, Tammy BaldwinBarbara Boxer, Sherrod Brown, Matt Cartwright, Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, Dianne Feinstein, Pramila Jayapal, David LoebsackTerry McAuliffe, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Martin O’Malley, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Sestak, Donna Shalala, Kyrsten Sinema, and Maxine Waters.[1]   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.

Footnotes

  1. Steyer also gave Republican Senator John McCain two $1,000 donations.
  2. The landmark 2010 Court ruling in Citizens United had struck down the McCain-Feingold Act’s restrictions on what corporations could spend to support or oppose political candidates during the weeks immediately preceding primaries and general elections.
  3. According to the Institute for Free Speech: “The [For The People Act] would impose onerous and unworkable standards on the ability of Americans and groups of Americans to discuss the policy issues of the day with elected officials and speak to the public. Other sections of the bill would violate the privacy of advocacy groups and their supporters, stringently regulate political speech on the Internet, and compel speakers to include lengthy government-mandated messages identifying some of their supporters by name in their communications. [It] would also coerce Americans into funding the campaigns of candidates with which they may disagree in a system that research has proven hasn’t worked elsewhere. If signed into law, all of these provisions would be interpreted and enforced by a newly partisan Federal Election Commission.”
    Roger Clegg of National Review Online writes that the Voting Rights Advancement Act is designed to “resurrect Section 5 of the [1965] Voting Rights Act, which was effectively struck down by the Supreme Court” in 2013. Section 5 was an anachronistic provision requiring that in fifteen separate (mostly Southern) states, no existing election laws could be altered in any way without first being pre-cleared by either the Justice Department or a federal court. Wrote Clegg in 2015: “The new bill would not, … exempt voter ID, and it would cover more jurisdictions than … the original Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. So we are to believe that there are more racist jurisdictions in 2015 than there were in 1965 — comprising half the country’s population.”

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