- Billionaire funder of Democratic political candidates and causes
- Major funder of radical environmentalism
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 and Freidman.
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.
Since 1990, Steyer has donated over $1.1 million to more than 40 separate Democratic political candidates including such notables as Barbara Boxer, Tom Daschle, Dianne Feinstein, Terry McAuliffe, Martin O’Malley, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Sestak, Jon Tester, and Mark Warner.1 Steyer also raised money for the presidential campaigns of Democrats Bill Bradley in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, and served as a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 2004 and 2008.
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.”
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.
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.’”
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.
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 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 eschews the use of antibiotics, hormones, or any chemicals that might have “an adverse impact on the health of our ecosystem.”
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 Zuckerburg.
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 September, he spoke on the topic of clean energy at the DNC National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Also in 2012, 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 spent another $1 million creating an advertising campaign criticizing Keystone.
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 has been a major financial backer of Greener Capital, a company that invests in alternative-fuel companies 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 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.
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, Seyer 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 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.”
The following month, Steyer pledged to spend yet another $10 million on his ad campaign to impeach President Trump.
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