California billionaire Tom Steyer on Tuesday morning announced his bid to join the two dozen Democrats running for president. In a four-minute video released by his campaign titled “Fundamental Change,” Steyer said that he wishes to “push power down to the people” and away from corporations.
“Obviously corporations don’t have hearts. Or souls. Or futures. They don’t have children. They have a short time frame, and they really care about just making money. If you give them the unlimited ability to participate in politics, it will skew anything because they only care about profits,” said Steyer.
The 62-year-old fervent anti-Trump activist has been a prominent backer of Democratic candidates and causes such as climate change and, in the past year, impeachment. During the 2014 midterm elections, Steyer lavished $74 million on the campaigns of candidates who promised to take action on global warming. According to Forbes, he funneled $67 million of those funds through his PAC NextGen Climate Action.
Steyer has stepped down from NextGen and from his campaign to remove President Trump, Need to Impeach.
In January, Steyer said he would not run in 2020 and instead devote himself to the impeachment effort. His announcement Tuesday reverses that decision.
With his announcement, he joins a crowded campaign field — now back up to 25, after Rep. Eric Swalwell became the first Democratic dropout Monday — led by Joe Biden and Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. With little name recognition and no record of holding public office, Steyer — who made his fortune, pegged by Forbes at $1.6 billion, as a hedge fund manager— will face an uphill battle to break out of the pack. While he’s unlikely to clear the DNC’s threshold for the upcoming debates in Detroit, Steyer asks visitors to his website to chip in small dollar amounts to help secure his spot on the third debate stage, which requires 130,000 individual donors and a showing of 2 percent in four qualifying polls — no easy task for a little-known late starter.
A spokesman for Steyer said he was prepared to spend $100 million of his own money on his campaign, enough to propel a conventional candidate into serious contention.
Critics of Steyer echo a question posed to many low-polling candidates and potential candidates in the field: Why you? Though Steyer does not answer that question directly, he implies that his status as an outside-the-Beltway figure who has never held public office gives him a distinctive perspective (albeit one he shares with at least two other Democratic candidates, author Marianne Williamson and entrepreneur Andrew Yang).
"Americans are deeply disappointed and hurt by the way they're treated by what they see as the power elite in Washington, D.C., and that goes across party lines and it goes across democracy," said Steyer.
But that argument has also been made by another billionaire exploring a candidacy for the presidency, Starbucks magnate Howard Schultz. Schultz, who recently suspended his campaign owing to a back injury, had struggled to gain traction with voters. Steyer might face the same uphill battle.