Media Disguise Liberal Billionaire Steyer As ‘Climate Change Crusader’

Behind ‘green hero’ mask is a rent-seeking crony capitalist.

If there’s one thing that defines Tom Steyer, it’s playing it safe. Steyer has been a man of habit, not a man of risk. Every day, he shows up to work in a red plaid tie with green and navy blue stripes. Even though he made it on Forbes’ billionaires list, he still drove a Honda Hybrid and wore cheap tennis shoes.

That image has been carefully cultivated. If news coverage of him is any indication, sometime around 2004 he even stopped going by Thomas, opting instead for the more casual "Tom." He even finds the time to work on the 1,800 acre cattle ranch he bought in Pescadero, California.

Eager to further his image as an average guy who just happened to be a billionaire, Steyer even went so far as to criticize billionaires who want to earn more money. He didn’t add that he seems to fit into this category himself.

On “Real Time with Bill Maher” on April 25, 2014, Steyer agreed with Maher that there was no reason for billionaires to try to increase their wealth. “I think there’s two things to be said. The first this is, of course it’s insane,” Steyer told Maher, “because how many lunches can you eat? If you get an extra billion dollars, are you going to eat one more lunch, wear one more shirt, do one more thing? No. So it obviously has nothing to do with a controlled view of the world. It has something to do with competition.” According to Forbes, Steyer’s 2014 net worth was $1.62 billion.

Tom Steyer had an upper crust route to wealth. He was born in 1957, and grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He graduated from two coveted Ivy League schools, with a BA in science from Yale, and an MBA from Stanford, where he met his wife, Kat Taylor.

After graduation, he worked at Goldman Sachs, before joining up with investment bankers Warren Hellman and Tully Friedman. Hellman and Friedman supplied the initial capital to get Steyer’s hedge fund, which became Farallon Capital Management, off the ground in 1986. According to Forbes, as of April, Farallon oversees around $19 billion.

Steyer’s brother Jim runs Common Sense Media, an organization that rates children’s entertainment options for parents. The two brothers have often worked together in the past on political issues, earning them the title, “the liberal answer to the Koch brothers.” Together, Steyer and his brother founded The Center for the Next Generation in 2011, a forerunner and partner organization to Steyer’s Nextgen Climate PAC.

Although he has dismissed the idea in the past, Steyer has been suggested as an ideal candidate for office.

According to San Francisco Gate, the hometown newspaper for Steyer’s primary residence, he “was considered a shoo-in for a position in Kerry’s administration.” Not yet a media darling, though, The Washington Post on March 12, 2004 wondered if Steyer would end up being a “Benedict Arnold” for Kerry. The Post was concerned that an investment firm he was a partner in, Hellman & Friedman LLC,  had “helped set up an insurance company in Bermuda, another popular tax haven.”

It was around this time that Steyer became more openly involved in politics. Steyer was also rumored as a possible replacement for Energy Secretary Steven Chu, although he told the San Francisco Business Times that he would be “awfully surprised” if President Obama asked him to take that position.

After running Farallon Capital since its inception, Steyer began divesting from his fossil fuel holdings with the hedge fund in January 2013,  and stepped down from managing the company. This divestment took 18 months, eventually wrapping up on June 30, 2014.  Steyer wrote in a Politico op-ed published on July 14 that he divested from Farallon because “I could not reconcile my personal values with managing a fund that by mandate is invested in all sectors of the global economy, including fossil fuels.”