Billionaire Tom Steyer on a possible presidential run

Environmental activist and billionaire Tom Steyer at his offices in San Francisco in June (Photo: Eric Risberg/AP)

The biggest billionaire donor of 2018 is now telling Democrats how to run for president in 2020 — and says that if they don’t listen, he will run himself.

Meet Tom Steyer — although you may have encountered him already, perhaps on one of the many ads he ran last election cycle, online and on television, calling for President Trump’s impeachment.

Steyer, a San Francisco hedge-fund manager turned environmental activist, first made his name in American politics by spending vast amounts of his estimated $1.6 billion fortune to influence climate-change policy.  But as 2016 came and went, and as he passed on possible bids for governor or senator, Steyer, 61, moved to diversify his political portfolio, launching NextGen Rising, a multimillion-dollar youth-vote initiative, and his $50 million Need to Impeach petition drive (current signature count: 6.4 million).

Overall, Federal Election Commission records show that Steyer spent about $60 million in 2018 — though he claims he spent “at least” twice as much, which would propel him past former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Republican casino magnate Sheldon Adelson to become the cycle’s top individual contributor. (Steyer’s calculation includes expenditures for ballot measures and issue ads, including those promoting impeachment of President Trump, which aren’t included in OpenSecrets.org’s current tally of individual contributions.)

And while the midterms may be over, Steyer shows no signs of slowing down. Last week, he overhauled his website and launched a new campaign focused on “The Five Rights” that he says “should be the basis of the Democratic Party’s platform” — the rights to an equal vote, to clean air and water, to a living wage, to health, and to learn. At the same time, Steyer announced a series of related town hall meetings beginning in the key early primary state of South Carolina on Dec. 4.

Predictably, the push fanned speculation that Steyer is planning to capitalize on his massive email list and even more massive war chest to run for president in 2020 — and as Steyer confirmed Wednesday in an interview with Yahoo News, that is a distinct possibility.

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