If you’re not already familiar with the name Tom Steyer, you soon will be. Since announcing his decision to run for president, the former hedge fund manager has rarely been out of the news… although in fairness, he’s already spent several years making headlines thanks to his efforts to impeach the current incumbent. Despite pouring vast amounts of his energy and money into a campaign to oust Trump, many observers have noticed startling similarities between the two. As well as both having obscene amounts of wealth, both have (or had) next to no political experience, both have no qualms at courting controversy (albeit for somewhat different reasons), both announced their presidential bid based on an off-the-cuff decision, both have little regard for the traditions of politics (or politicians), and both have an abundance of personal confidence. Understandably, Steyer is none too pleased with the comparison, acknowledging that while there might be some “superficial comparisons” between the two, those comparisons would disintegrate “if you look at who I am, what I’ve done, what I stand for.” See if you agree with our quick guide to the presidential hopeful.
1. He’s signed up to the Giving Pledge
In 2010, Steyer proved the size of his generosity is almost as big as his bank balance. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, and hedge fund billionaire Warren Buffett, Steyer signed up to the Giving Pledge, an international community of the world’s richest all united in their commitment to giving away large chunks of their wealth (a full 50% in fact) to charitable causes during their lifetime.
2. He’s a serial philanthropist
If committing to giving away 50% of his wealth to charity wasn’t enough to prove his philanthropic credentials, the extensive list of foundations Steyer has established over the years should be. In 2006, he and his wife founded OneRoof, Inc., a social enterprise business that aims to bring broadband connectivity and computer literacy to small rural towns in India and Mexico through a program of OneRoof Internet Centers. He’s also responsible for One PacificCoast Foundation, a charitable endeavor that provides education, lending support and investments to various underserved and disadvantaged communities in California, and Fair Shake Commission on Income Inequality and Middle-Class Opportunity, which advocates policies designed at lessening the gap between the extremally poor and the obscenely wealthy.
3. He’s created a bank for the masses
In 2007, Steyer established Beneficial State Bank, a community development bank that delivers commercial banking services to Bay Area businesses, nonprofits, and individuals who would otherwise struggle to find appropriate financial service assistance. Steyer put up much of the finances (a total of $22.5 million) to get the bank up and running but takes no return on his investment: the bank’s stock is held by a foundation that drives all earnings straight back into local community projects.
4. He’s a committed environmentalist
It’s not just communities that are benefiting from Steyer’s generosity- over the past decade, he’s devoted himself to environmental causes. In 2012, Steyer and his wife opened the TomKat Ranch in Pescadero, California with the aim of developing new approaches to sustainable farming. As well as funding health food programs, the ranch has also co-produced the independent film, La Mission, about San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. In a further bid to prove his environmental credentials, Steyer launched NextGen Climate, an environmental advocacy nonprofit and political action committee, in 2013.
5. He’s a multi-award winner
Steyer’s long term commitment to environmentalist causes hasn’t gone unrecognized. In 2011, he was awarded the prestigious Phillip Burton Public Service Award of Consumer Watchdog. A year later, he won the equally noteworthy Environmental Leadership Award of the California League of Conservation Voters. Other awards and plaudits include the Environmental Achievement Award of the Environmental Law Institute (2013), the Land Conservation Award of the Open Space Institute (2015), and the Advocate Award of the Environmental Advocates of New York (2016). In addition to his awards for environmental causes, he’s also been honored with the Equality California 2015 Humanitarian Award, “for his work advancing progressive causes that benefit the LGBT community”.
6. He’s been married since 1986
In 1986, Steyer married Kathryn Ann Taylor, a Harvard University graduate who has served on the President’s Council for the United Religions Initiative, an organization that aims to “promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence, and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings”. The couple have four children, the grandly named Samuel Taylor, Charles Augustus, Evelyn Hoover, and Henry Hume.
7. He’s not the only famous name in his family
Steyer’s name may get mentioned in the newspapers more often, but in certain circles, it’s his brother, Jim, who’s the most well-known of the three Steyer brothers (the third brother, Hume, is an attorney in New York City). A noted child advocate, civil rights attorney, professor, and author, one of Jim’s most well-known contributions to the community is Common Sense Media, an organization he founded with the aim of improving media and entertainment for children and families. He’s also authored two books on the same subject, The Other Parent: The Inside Story of the Media’s Effect on our Children and Talking Back to Facebook: The Common-Sense Guide to Raising Kids in the Digital Age.
8. He was on the receiving end of a “suspicious package”
Fame sometimes comes with a sting in its tail, and in 2018, Steyer was on the receiving end of its bite. After drawing the attention of infamous mail bomber Cesar Sayoc, Steyer was sent two suspicious packages. As NBC reports, FBI agents were swiftly called in to investigate after the discovery was made. Sayoc, who had also sent packages to Senator Kamala Harris that same day, was later caught and arrested. Other famous names to have previously drawn Sayoc’s unwanted attentions include CNN, Barack Obama, California Congresswoman Maxine Waters and a number of other key Democrats.
9. He had a religious revelation in his 30’s
Some men have a mid-life crisis in their 30’s. For Steyer, the decade was marked less by a sudden interest in fast cars and loose women than it was by a sudden interest in God. After experiencing a “revelation”, Steyer began attending his local Episcopal Church. He’s since credited his growing interest in theology and religion as the inspiration behind his political advocacy.
10. He’s worth 1.6 billion
We all know Tom Steyer is rich, but just how rich may well induce a twinge of the green-eyed monster in even the best of us. According to the latest estimates by Forbes, Steyer is worth a mammoth $1.6 billion. Despite his extreme wealth, he’s generally considered a “modest” billionaire, eschewing luxury status symbols and driving a self-confessed “outdated” hybrid Honda Accord.
11. He spent $10 million trying to impeach the president
So strong are Steyer’s feelings about the present president, he’s spent a good part of his fortune trying to get rid of him. In 2017, Steyer founded a television campaign with $10 million dollars of his own money with the sole aim of bringing about Trump’s impeachment. During the ad, Steyer alleges Trump “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.” Trump’s response to the ad was simply to call Steyer “wacky and totally unhinged.”
12. His father was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials
Steyer was born in 1957 to Marnie, a teacher of remedial reading at the Brooklyn House of Detention, and Roy Henry Steyer, a partner at the NYC law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, who most notable case was acting as a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials. After finishing his high school studies at the Buckley School and Phillips Exeter Academy, Steyer enrolled in Yale University, later graduating summa cum laude with a degree in economics and political science. He later obtained his MBA from Stanford Business School as an Arjay Miller Scholar.
13. He founded his first hedge fund in 1986
After obtaining his MBA at Stanford Business School, Steyer took an associate position at Goldman Sachs, where he worked in the risk arbitrage division. After leaving the firm, he spent several years at Hellman & Friedman, a San Francisco–based private equity firm, as a partner and member of the Executive Committee. In 1986, he took his first steps towards achieving the status of a billionaire when he founded Farallon Capital, a hedge fund firm based in San Francisco, California. By the time he stepped down from the company in 2012, it had over $20 billion in assets under management.
14. George Bush galvanized his interest in politics
While Steyer has always maintained an outside interest in politics, it was George Bush’s appointment to president that galvanized him to pursue his interests further. “In 2002, I was, like, ‘O.K., this guy’s a historic mistake,’” he told The New Yorker . “I can’t tell my grandchildren, ‘We really screwed it up, but I was making a lot of money so I didn’t have time to do anything about it.’ I thought, Win, lose, or draw, I have to put everything I can into defeating this guy because he’s going to be terrible for the United States if he gets reelected.
15. A hike changed his life
In 2012, Steyer chanced upon an article by Bill McKibben, an environmentalist and writer noted for his prolific publications on global warming. The article had such an impact on Steyer that he invited McKibben for a hike in Adirondacks. The hike must have had quite the impact: on his return to civilization, Steyer made the decision to step down from his position at Farallon Capital (a company that had been called out in the past for its investments in fossil fuel resources) to concentrate his efforts on environmental advocacy.
16. He was out before he was in
Initially, Steyer denied he’d be running for president in 2020, claiming his work with NextGen America and Need to Impeach (his campaign to impeach Trump) would be the primary focus of his activities. By July, however, he’d clearly had a change in heart. His opening gambit was to release an announcement video making his intention of bringing climate change to the front of the agenda. “Almost every major single 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,” he said in his announcement video.
17. His candidacy has been welcomed by environmentalists
Since Washington Governor Jay Inslee bowed out of the race in August, environmentalists have been looking for a new candidate to pin their hopes on. In Steyer, they seem to have found their man. “Tom Steyer clearly understands the urgency of the climate crisis, and he’s made climate action one of his very top priorities for years,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, the Senior Vice President for Government Affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, explained to USA Today. “I think he brings an important voice for climate leadership and climate action to the presidential race.”
18. Being the outsider has its advantages
Unlike every other Democratic candidate (with the sole exception of entrepreneur Andrew Yang), Steyer has relatively little political experience. While having a proven history in politics can often be seen as an advantage, Steyer believes it’s his “outsider” status that will work to his advantage during the presidential race. “As an outsider, I’ve been doing things that people in the inside have been unwilling or unable to do,” he says. “Look, take a look at Need to Impeach. That was clearly an outside effort, organizing people who were from outside Washington, D.C., to stand up and insist that the government do what’s right, and hold the most corrupt president in American history to account.”
19. He’s been accused of buying his way into the race
While environmentalists may have been quick to embrace Steyer’s entry into the race, other Democratic candidates have been less welcoming. Some have gone as far as to accuse the billionaire of using his vast wealth to essentially “buy’ his way into the race. “Tom Steyer is a billionaire hedge fund manager who already spent a staggering $17.6 million on TV ads trying to qualify for the debates. Now, he’s succeeded in buying his way up there,” Former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke said in his fundraising appeal; a sentiment that’s been echoed by Montana Governor Steve Bullock and Senator Kamala Harris.
20. He’s spent more than 7 million on ads
Whether you agree with the likes of O’Rourke and Bullock or not, there’s no denying Steyer is pouring a heap of money into his campaign. In July, the New York Times reported that Steyer planned to spend “at least $100 million on the race”, the majority of which would come from his own resources. While he’s not quite at the $100 million mark yet, there’s no denying Steyer’s spend is dwarfing that of other candidates. Within the first few months of his campaign alone, he invested $7 million in social media and TV ads; a figure’s set to grow substantially as he continues his campaign through November.