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Who Is Tom Steyer? 2020 Democratic Candidate Debates for the First Time

October 15, 2019, 5:41 PM UTC

Twelve Democratic presidential candidates took the stage in Tuesday night’s Democratic debate, including one new face: billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer.

Steyer, who only announced his presidential candidacy in July, qualified for the fourth Democratic debate—his debut on the debate stage—in early September after exceeding 2% in four polls and receiving donations from more than 130,000 supporters.

Here’s what you should know about him.

Steyer was an early proponent of Trump’s impeachment

Steyer was an early proponent of impeaching President Donald Trump, funneling millions of his own wealth into a campaign called Need to Impeach, which gained support from more than 1 million voters in the first two weeks after it was launched in October 2017.

The billionaire has not shied away from using his own face and name to push his impeachment agenda and has been known to clash publicly with Trump, even before deciding to throw his name into the presidential race. Yet Steyer has not made impeachment the sole focus of his presidential campaign. 

Steyer is the founder of NextGen America

According to an email sent to supporters on Monday night, Steyer is running “to end the corporate takeover of our government and return power back to the American people.” Once this goal is achieved, Steyer hopes to continue and strengthen a progressive agenda and tackle the climate crisis, two issues that have been central to another organization he founded, NextGen America, which seeks to mobilize young people to vote in “crucial elections.”

“The big question for voters,” the email reads, “is whether they believe change is more likely to come from inside the Washington establishment, or from someone who has a decade-long track record of making change from the outside.”

Steyer has signed the Giving Pledge

Steyer is the founder and former co-managing partner of Farallon Capital, the hedge fund at which he built his fortune. He and his wife Kat Taylor are signers of the Giving Pledge, committing to give much of their wealth to charity. 

Since leaving Farallon, Steyer has devoted much of his time and money to progressive causes and donated significant sums to a number of Democratic causes and candidates. Steyer, who is worth about $3.1 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, spent more than $300 million between 2014 and 2017, and was the single biggest spender in the 2016 midterm election cycle.

His willingness to use his own wealth to support Democratic causes extends to his presidential campaign. According to FiveThirtyEight’s estimates, Steyer has spent $20 million on TV ads to date, as well as millions on digital ads, many of which were used to solicit donations, enabling him to meet the individual donor threshold to qualify for the debates. As such, Steyer has been on the receiving end of criticism that he is using his own wealth to buy his way onto the debate stage.

Steyer has expressed support for a “wealth tax” and term limits

But Steyer’s political platform also appears to be resonating with some voters: a Morning Consult poll released this week has Steyer at 8% in early primary states, or fourth place, behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Like Warren, Steyer has expressed support for a “wealth tax” (despite his own fortune). He has also advocated term limits, adding justices to the Supreme Court bench, repealing Citizens United, and, returning to his work combating climate change, has announced plans to declare climate change an emergency on day one of his presidency. 

Steyer’s campaign has raised more than $2 million over the past three months

While Steyer’s haul in the third quarter was way behind Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who led the quarter with $25.3 million raised, Steyer has pledged to spent at least $100 million of his own money on his presidential bid.

Steyer is one of just eight candidates who have qualified for the November debate thus far, meaning the American people will have at least one more opportunity to get to know this political ‘outsider.’

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