Steyer: I’m a ‘Professional Pain in the Ass’

Liberal billionaire pouring money into Democratic, green efforts
Tom Steyer / AP

Tom Steyer / AP


Billionaire Tom Steyer now refers to himself a “professional pain in the ass” these days, the Democratic financier told Bloomberg Businessweek in a profile of his newly expanded efforts as a political donor.

The founder of Farallon Capital Management, which oversees nearly $20 billion in assets, retired last year to focus on financing political efforts. Despite common Democratic rhetoric about money in politics, Steyer’s efforts have found some welcomers, according to Businessweek:

Some environmental activists are thrilled. “In a country that’s dominated by billionaires gaming the political system for their narrow self-interest, it’s pretty neat to see a player who’s in it for the common good,” says author and environmentalist Bill McKibben. “He’s not a greedhead.” Many Democrats, McKibben among them, view Steyer as a liberal analogue of the conservative Koch brothers, the billionaire owners of Koch Industries, whose lavish support of free-market causes and political ruthlessness loom large in the liberal imagination. […]

Democrats pushing for action are generally supportive of this new billionaire in their midst, if ambivalent about Steyer’s methods. “I’m not happy about big money playing such an important role in political campaigns,” says Waxman. “But I want to see a pushback, and we can’t unilaterally disarm. I’m glad someone like Tom is willing to spend.”

Yet as Harvard’s Skocpol makes clear, money wasn’t the most important element missing from the last climate fight. National environmental groups were actually very well-funded. What was missing was any conviction among voters that global warming is an urgent concern. The next few years will reveal whether Steyer’s wealth and antics can help change this. When people inquire about his occupation, “I actually tell them ‘professional pain in the ass,’ ” Steyer says. “Before, I was only an amateur.”

Steyer has made news recently, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Massachusetts special election for what was Secretary of State John Kerry’s Senate seat. Over the last few years, Steyer has personally donated more than $275,000 to Democratic candidates and committees.

The former hedge funder claims he has no personal financial stake in his political activity, which primarily focuses on green initiatives.

“So, whereas (the Kochs are) representing points of view that are in their personal monetary interest,” he told MSNBC last week, “I’m actually representing the citizens of the whole country in terms of their diffused interest against concentrated economic interest that the Koch brothers represent.”

However, in recent years,  Steyer’s investments and political donations have seemed to have areas of overlap. Steyer helped found a green venture capital firm, for instance, that has profited from the Obama administration’s energy policy shift, as Washington Free Beacon editor in chief Matthew Continetti outlined in a column last year.