- Billionaire funder of Democratic political candidates and causes
- Major funder of radical environmentalism
See also: Center for American Progress
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. 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.
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 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 Californis. For details, click here.
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. For details, click here.
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.”
On occasion, Steyer has collaborated with environmentalist Bill McKibben on campaigns to pressure university endowments to divest entirely from coal equities.
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 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.
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. But the initiative fell far short of its goals. As of August 21, 2014, Steyer had contributed just $11.6 million to the project, while outside donors had given a mere $1.7 million.
Steyer is a board member of the Center for American Progress.
For additional information on Tom Steyer, click here.
 Steyer also gave Republican Senator John McCain two $1,000 donations.