WASHINGTON — California billionaire and activist Tom Steyer launched his long-shot presidential campaign Tuesday morning, joining a crowded Democratic field with a promise to focus on climate action and political reform.
Steyer, who just months ago insisted he would not run for president, reversed that decision in a video announcement to supporters. He lamented how “corporate money has corrupted our democracy and stripped Americans of our ability to determine our own future,” though Steyer has probably funneled more cash into the political system than all of his nearly two dozen rivals combined.
Borrowing a theme from other progressives who have disavowed big money in politics, Steyer declared that while many in the race are aiming to advance ambitious policy ideas, “we won’t be able to get any of those done until we end the hostile corporate takeover of our democracy.”
As a founder of two large grass-roots organizations aimed at fighting climate change and impeaching President Trump, Steyer hopes to position himself as a Washington outsider.
Steyer has resigned from his leadership roles at those groups, NextGen America and Need to Impeach, as he seeks the Democratic nomination. But as he left, he committed more than $50 million to them through 2020.
The billionaire vowed to focus his campaign nationwide, not just on the early primary states.
Even with his personal fortune, Steyer faces challenging prospects, starting with his party’s criteria to join debates. To qualify for the one at the end of July, he would need to get contributions from 65,000 donors – not easy for any billionaire to do – or reach at least 1% in three polls recognized by the Democratic National Committee.
It will be even tougher to get on stage for the September and October debates. They require donations from at least 130,000 contributors and support of at least 2% in four polls.
Kim Nalder, a political science professor at Cal State Sacramento, questioned the viability of any billionaire at a time when Democrats are aching to oust the one now serving as president.
She also suggested that Steyer’s goal in jumping into the race so late might be less to win the presidency than to publicize his pet causes, such as the impeachment of Trump or efforts to fight global warming.
“I can’t imagine that this would be a successful campaign in the sense of getting elected, but that’s not always the reason that people run for president,” Nalder said. “I think the timing gives us some indication of how serious his intentions are in terms of electability.”