Steyer, who is worth an estimated $1.6 billion, has spent more on television ads for his campaign than all the other Democratic presidential candidates combined

By Sean Neumann
January 14, 2020 04:06 PM

As the once crowded field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates keeps getting smaller, one unexpected name endures..

Billionaire Tom Steyer has kept his campaign running into 2020, even recently polling high enough in two states to earn a spot in this week’s Democratic primary debate alongside the four front-runners: Former Vice President Joe Biden, former Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Steyer, 62, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar are the underdog candidates who managed to make the cut for Tuesday’s Democratic debate in Des Moines, Iowa, by securing donations from at least 225,000 donors and earning enough percentage points in early nominating state political polls.

(Other candidates with bigger name recognition faded more quickly, such as Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.)

“This campaign has a fair bit of momentum right now,” Steyer said recently while campaigning in New Hampshire, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Steyer, who is worth an estimated $1.6 billion, according to Forbes, largely from his previous investment career, has spent more on television ads for his campaign than all the other Democratic presidential candidates combined, outside of fellow billionaire and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Steyer has also funded an aggressive campaign to raise support for impeaching President Donald Trump.

CNN political reporter David Wright reported Thursday that Steyer has spent $116.5 million on TV ads so far. For comparison, Sanders and Buttigieg have both spent about $11 million, while Biden and Warren spent about $3 million.

Such lavish spending has opened up both Steyer and Bloomberg to criticisms they are seeking to essentially buy voters’ support. Steyer, separately, has faced scrutiny over his lack of political qualifications — the idea that his 2020 candidacy is merely a hobby-like extension of his impeachment campaign against Trump.

And while Steyer has polled moderately well in some early states and continues to appear at the debates (unlike Bloomberg), he is not yet resonating more widely, even with his financial power.

Steyer made political noise in recent years by continuously calling for Trump’s impeachment throughout his presidency, even before Steyer announced his own candidacy last July. (Trump was impeached in December by the House over his Ukraine scandal.)

Trump has dismissed the Democratic long-shot, in true Trump fashion, as a “weirdo.”

“Weirdo Tom Steyer doesn’t have the ‘guts’ or money to run for President,” Trump tweeted in March.

In addition to his 2020 campaign, Steyer has funded political groups such as the anti-Trump Need to Impeach and the progressive advocacy organization NextGen America.

He made much of his fortune as a hedge fund manager, founding the investment firm Farallon Capital in the mid-1980s.

Fox News reported Thursday that one poll in South Carolina showed Steyer in second behind Biden, at 15 percent.

Despite his extreme wealth, Steyer has criticized corporate influence on politics, building his campaign around a promise to, in his words, push power back to American citizens.

“We have a society that’s really unequal,” he said in a video announcing his campaign last year. “It’s really important for people to understand that this society is connected. If this is a banana republic with a few very, very rich people and everybody else living in misery, that’s a failure.”