California billionaire Tom Steyer was once seen as a potential deep-pocketed sponsor for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s presidential campaign.
The two have been allies on efforts to defeat climate change, and Inslee met privately with Steyer in December in San Francisco. In January, Steyer publicly ruled out his own presidential run, saying he’d focus on a $40 million effort to persuade Congress to impeach President Donald Trump.
In February, a spokeswoman for the newly formed pro-Inslee super PAC, Act Now On Climate, said Steyer “would be our first call” to ask for donations if Inslee entered the race. He announced his candidacy March 1. But the money never arrived.
On Tuesday, Steyer scrapped any idea he’d rescue Inslee’s struggling campaign, saying he’s running for the Democratic nomination after all — and will spend $100 million on his own candidacy.
In a video announcing his campaign, Steyer said he will focus on fixing the “rigged” U.S. political system by working to “take the corporate control out of our politics.” Steyer, 62, is worth an estimated $1.6 billion, according to Forbes. He made his fortune during his 26 years running the hedge fund Farallon Capital before selling his stake to focus on environmental and political causes.
Inslee was traveling in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, and Katie Rodihan, a campaign spokeswoman, said he had no immediate comment on Steyer’s decision. Inslee’s campaign aides include some who had previously worked for Steyer’s global-warming activism organization, NextGen Climate.
The Atlantic, citing unnamed sources, reported Steyer had been enthused by Inslee’s climate-focused candidacy, but grew “frustrated that Inslee’s campaign hasn’t taken off more.”
Christy Setzer, a spokeswoman for Act Now On Climate, said the super PAC never received any donations from Steyer.
Act Now has reported spending about $1.6 million in support of Inslee, mostly on TV and online ads. Its spending started with a $1 million burst in March, but has since slowed considerably, with only $50,000 in reported spending last month. The group has not disclosed its donors and won’t be required to until a July 31 Federal Election Commission reporting deadline.
Despite his vast fortune, Steyer may face long odds in belatedly entering the Democratic presidential field. He’s almost certainly too late to qualify for the next debate, scheduled for the end of the month, and would have to attract 130,000 donors and hit 2 % in polls to make the third debate in September.
Tina Podlodowski, chair of the Washington State Democrats, criticized Steyer’s announcement on Twitter, urging him to reconsider how he’d spend his money. She compared his candidacy to the presidential aspirations of another billionaire, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.
“$100M would give SUCH a boost to every State Party in the country, allowing us to win up & down the ballot & invest in our organizers and volunteers. Invest in OUR people and THEIR power … not this bid. Please don’t Schultz it up!,” Podlodowski wrote on Twitter.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 2020 presidential candidate, also had unkind words for Steyer’s candidacy in an interview on MSNBC, in which he said that while he’s been a friend of Steyer’s, “I am a bit tired of seeing billionaires trying to buy political power.”