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PolitiFact California: Who is Tom Steyer? A Bio Of The Democratic Presidential Candidate

Steve Pope/Getty Images via NPR
Billionaire activist Tom Steyer speaks to supporters in January in Des Moines, Iowa, where he announced he would not run for president. He's now reversed course.

Tom Steyer is the California billionaire you’ve seen in TV ads calling for the impeachment of President Trump, the environmental activist warning about the catastrophic threat of climate change and the mega-donor to Democratic candidates. 

Now, Steyer, 62, is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president. He joins two dozen others. 

"Americans are deeply disappointed and hurt by thee way they are treated by what they think is the power elite in Washington D.C. and that goes across party lines and it goes across geography," Steyer said in a campaign video today announcing his run. "We’ve got to take the corporate control out of politics."

Steyer had said in January that he was passing on a 2020 run. Previously, he considered running for California’s U.S. Senate seat in 2016 and for governor in 2018.

Need to Impeach effort 

Steyer is probably best known nationally for leading Need to Impeach, an effort to rally support for Trump’s impeachment. His group says more than eight million Americans have signed a petition to remove the president from office. It alleges Trump has "willfully obstructed justice, profited off the presidency, and brazenly lied to the public."

Need to Impeach recently released a $1 million ad buy for the national network affiliates in New Hampshire and Iowa criticizing Democratic Party leaders for failing to impeach Trump, according to OpenSecrets.org.

In recent decades, Steyer has funded national Democratic candidates from John Kerry to Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama. He’s funded numerous California state lawmakers, including former State Sen. Leader Kevin de León, and ballot measures from California’s plastic bag ban to its recent tobacco tax hike. Steyer also spent $120 million to help Democrats in the 2018 midterms, according to a recent Politico article.

Steyer’s background

Steyer grew up in New York City. His father, Roy, was a lawyer and part of the team that prosecuted Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg, according to Steyer’s biography. His mother, Marnie, was a journalist and teacher. 

He graduated from Yale and earned his MBA at Stanford. After working on Wall Street, Steyer moved to San Francisco in 1986 and started the investment firm Farallon Capital Management. At its peak, the firm’s investments totaled $36 billion, according to Steyer.

In 2012, he stepped down from Farallon to focus on philanthropy and activism. Steyer, whose net worth is estimated at approximately $1.6 billion, has pledged to give away half his fortune during his lifetime. 

Steyer and his wife, Kathryn Taylor, have four grown children.

Combating climate change

In 2013, Steyer founded NextGen America, a nonprofit that supports efforts to fight climate change, mobilizes young people to register to vote and backs candidates for elected office. "NextGen organizers worked hundreds of college campuses and city neighborhoods to increase voting by youth, people of color, workers and other underrepresented groups," according to Steyer’s biography. 

The fight against climate change, Steyer has said, is not just about the environment.

"The consequences of climate change will hit impoverished Americans the hardest. Climate justice is about more than protecting our planet. It's about protecting the most vulnerable among us, too," he said in a tweeton July 1. 

A brief profile

Name: Tom Steyer

Current occupation: Executive director and founder of NextGen America, a nonprofit group that fights climate change; Founder of Need to Impeach, a group focused on impeaching President Trump.

Party: Democratic Party

Federal offices: None

Key votes: None

State and local offices: None

Private sector work: Founder and former managing partner of investment firm Farallon Capital Management

Military: None

Books authored: None

Education: Yale University (BA); Stanford University (MBA)

Birth date: June 27, 1957

Personal life: Kathryn Taylor (wife); four grown children

Religion: Episcopalian

Top issues: Climate change, renewable energy, impeaching President Trump, education, voter registration.

Miscellaneous: Contributed funding to California’s Yes on 62 campaign, an unsuccessful measure to repeal the state’s death penalty defeated by voters in November 2016. 

Past fact checks: PolitiFact National has fact-checked Steyer’s NextGen America, originally called NextGen Climate, and its political action committee several times over the past five years. 

In 2014, PolitiFact rated Half True the group’s claim that then Florida Gov. Rick Scott "took $200,000 from a family that leased land for drilling "and now he is trying to hide from it." It found the statement was partially accurate but left out important details. 

In September 2016, PolitiFact California rated Mostly False Steyer’s claim, "Since 1978, California has spent $5 billion to put 13 people to death." We found that cost has been spread over hundreds of cases since 1978, not just the 13 that led to executions.

That same year, Steyer contributed to California’s Yes on 62 campaign, an unsuccessful ballot measure to repeal the state’s death penalty.

Other coverage: The New York TimesBillionaire Tom Steyer May Enter the 2020 Field as Rep. Eric Swalwell Bows Out, July 8, 2019; OpenSecrets.org, Liberal megadonor Tom Steyer’s lobbying campaign to impeach Trump persists, May 21, 2019; Politico, Tom Steyer reconsiders 2020 and plans to enter the race, July 7, 2019

Campaign website: www.tomsteyer.com

Editor's note: This story is part of PolitiFact’s ongoing coverage of the 2020 campaign; these reports will be updated as the campaign continues. For more candidate profiles and fact-checking, go to www.politifact.com/2020/