California billionaire and environmentalist Tom Steyer, who has spent the past two years pouring millions into a campaign to impeach President Donald Trump, announced he is running for president after all.
Steyer’s announcement Tuesday came as a surprise, especially after he said he wasn’t running for president in January.
But he has changed his mind, entering the race a day after California Rep. Eric Swalwell dropped out of the running. Steyer’s interest in political office is well documented; last year, he traveled to all the early primary and caucus states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina) and launched his “5 Rights” campaign, a platform based on equal voting rights, the right to clean air and water, free public education, a living wage, and universal health care.
In a video announcing his candidacy, Steyer put corporate greed and inequality at the center of his opening message saying “almost every single major intractable problem, at the back of it, you see a big money interest for whom stopping progress, stopping justice is really important to their bottom line.”
But until now, Steyer, a progressive activist, has been focused on a Need to Impeach initiative, aimed at lobbying lawmakers to impeach Trump. He has amassed more than 8 million signatories, even leading Trump to call him a “crazed and stumbling lunatic” on Twitter. So far, the movement has seen little traction from Democratic Party leaders; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly said she does not see impeachment as the best path forward.
Steyer spent $120 million on the 2018 midterm elections to help Democrats take back the House, what the California philanthropist told reporters was only a first “step.” Apparently, running for president is Steyer’s next act.
Tom Steyer got into politics because of climate change — then Trump happened
Steyer, a longtime Democratic donor (who has a net worth of $1.6 billion, according to Forbes), has never run for elected office. But’s he’s been a long-rumored candidate, first for governor of California — which he forwent — and for president.
He was raised in an upper-class family in Manhattan, went to the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy, then Yale, then Stanford. He worked at Goldman Sachs in New York before moving to San Francisco to work in private equity and eventually start an investment firm where he made his fortune. Steyer left the financial world to become a political activist full time in 2012.
Climate change precipitated his entrance into politics. In 2013, he founded NextGen Climate, an environmental advocacy group that’s invested heavily in electing Democrats, so much so that John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff who ran Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, told the Ringer that if Clinton had won, he could “imagine [Steyer] would be the secretary of energy in the Clinton administration.”
According to a 2018 profile of Steyer in Vogue, in 2013 “he spent more than $30 million on a successful referendum in California to bring in more money for clean-energy initiatives. In 2014, he allocated $75 million to support Democratic candidates.” In 2016, Steyer gave more to political causes — more than $100 million to liberal candidates — than any other political donor, even the Koch brothers.
But when Trump was elected, Steyer expanded NextGen Climate to NextGen America, organizing around health care, social justice, and immigration; and NextGen Rising, a new voter registration initiative. By 2017, he’d launched his latest, most headline-grabbing project: the Need to Impeach initiative, lobbying lawmakers to impeach Trump.
But what has been Steyer’s rallying cry — impeaching Trump — is also a thorn in the side of top Democratic leaders, like Pelosi, who have largely tried to work around impeachment.
Steyer’s policy positions, explained
Steyer has been called a “golden child of corporate America.” Yet his politics are more resonant with the likes of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who have crafted their political campaigns around railing against the corporate class.
The opening line of Steyer’s “5 Rights” campaign was that “corporate lobbyists rigged the system.”
“I grew up believing the point of our country was to be free, the promise that everyone could make a good life for themselves,” Steyer said in the introductory video. “But over time I saw big corporations buy our democracy and set the rules for the sake of their profits, not for the common good. Corporate lobbyists rigged the system, leaving the majority walled off from their dreams.”
He has endorsed a progressive policy platform in line with Sanders’s and Warren’s agendas. As Sanders has unveiled an “economic bill of rights,” calling for a living wage, quality health care, complete education, affordable housing, clean environment, and secure retirement, Steyer has his own “5 rights” campaign. It includes the rights to an equal vote, clean air and water, education, living wage, and health care.
Steyer supports single-payer health care, raising the minimum wage, and free public education. He has said Sanders’s agenda is the way forward, and had initially held off from running in part because he was reportedly impressed with Warren’s campaign messaging.
But now he’s jumping into a primary race against Sanders and Warren.