2020 Presidential Candidate Series — Tom Steyer

Update 388 — 2020 Presidential Candidate Series;
The Economic Agenda of Tom Steyer

For our final presidential candidate update series, we look at the economic policy of billionaire and philanthropist Tom Steyer. He has emerged as far and away the most outspoken climate change advocate among remaining Democratic candidates. His campaign focuses on anti-corruption and reducing corporate influence in the government. 

After missing the third Democratic debate in Houston last month, Mr. Steyer has since qualified for next week’s debate in Westerville, Ohio — he is currently polling between 2 and 4 percent nationwide and has received donations from 166,119 unique donors.

More on Mr. Steyer’s signature economic policy, tax reform, and other proposals below. 

Good weekends all,



In July, former hedge-fund investor Tom Steyer announced his 2020 Democratic president bid. Mr. Steyer founded and ran Farallon Capital, a private equity firm, and co-founded Onecalifornia Bank (now Beneficial State Bank), an Oakland–based community development bank. In 2012, Steyer retired from Farallon and devoted his time to progressive advocacy. Mr. Steyer gained name recognition in 2017 when he launched “The Need to Impeach” advertisement campaign, which still blankets airwaves with anti-Trump messaging. 

Mr. Steyer supports Medicare-for-all and Green New Deal proposals. Of interest to many is his economic policy vision. Steyer’s ambitious policy proposals are paid for by raising $1 trillion in revenue through progressive taxation. Below, we look in depth at Mr. Steyer’s tax reform proposals, as well as some of his other policy priorities. 

Signature Economic Policy: Tax Reform

Mr. Steyer proposes broad, progressive changes to the tax code. First and foremost, he takes direct aim at closing wasteful tax expenditures and loopholes. As a private citizen, Steyer played a leading role in designing and financially supporting Proposition 39, a California state initiative that modified how corporations calculate their state income tax burdens. Until Prop 39’s passage, companies that outsourced jobs out of the state, and companies that were not based in California, enjoyed preferential tax treatment. Closing that loophole brought in approximately $1 billion, which was dedicated towards the state’s education and public health services. In 2018, Steyer put his financial muscle behind a proposed carbon tax in Washington state, which was ultimately defeated. 

Mr. Steyer also advocates for a wealth tax. His plan calls for a 1 percent annual tax on the top 0.1 percent of American households. That amounts to a $.01 levy on each dollar of wealth over $32 million. The Steyer plan does not provide for deductions or exemptions, though it does call for the revenues to be dedicated towards education, healthcare, or retirement security. Steyer has also called for raising the estate tax and closing trust fund loopholes. In total, Mr. Steyer claims his tax reforms would generate over $1 trillion. 

Finally, like most in the Democratic Party, Mr. Steyer calls for a “roll back” of the 2017 Republican tax law — but like most Democrats, specifics on a replacement are wanting. Steyer’s “Need to Impeach” ad campaign went into overdrive during the run up to the tax cut’s passage in November 2017, with a voiceover saying, “[Republicans] won’t tell you that their so-called tax reform plan is really for the wealthy and big corporations while hurting the middle class. It blows up the deficit, and that means fewer investments in education, healthcare, and job creation.” 

Honorable Mentions 

  • Living Wage: Earlier this week, the Steyer campaign outlined the “5 rights,” including “the right to learn,” “the right to a living wage,” “the right to clean air and water,” “the right to learn” and “the right to health.” When it comes to ensuring American workers are guaranteed a living wage, Mr. Steyer advocates a nationwide $15 minimum wage to establish a wage floor. He also plans to augment earnings of low-income workers with an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and various retirement security programs. Finally, Mr. Steyer supports the rights of unions to collectively bargain, and plans to reverse GOP-led efforts to undermine organized labor. 
  • Universal Education: Mr. Steyer plans to revamp the nation’s education policy, first by guaranteeing free, quality public education from universal pre-k through higher education, including workforce and technical training. A Steyer Administration would direct more federal funding to public education to improve school infrastructure, increase teacher pay and professional development, and ensure equal access to educational opportunities. 
  • Political Reform: Mr. Steyer has been one of the loudest voices in public discourse opposing the Trump Administration’s disregard for ethical norms, but he also has a long history of opposing corporate influence in public policy and in strengthening civic rights. He calls for “structural reforms,” which include instituting term limits for members of Congress, reversing the Supreme Court’s 2009 Citizens United ruling, and ending gerrymandering. Steyer vocally supported the For the People Act, H.R. 1, and advocates for expansions to voting rights through a nation-wide Vote-At-Home system, implementation of a national referendum process, and empowering the Federal Election Commission so it is able to enforce violations and reduce discrimination. 


Mr. Steyer campaigns as a political outsider. As a billionaire, Steyer has the opportunity to seize some of Trump’s political support that came from people who perceive most politicians as being bought off. Whether or not it is actually true of his governance, Trump successfully ran against the GOP establishment and then against Hillary Clinton as an outsider who would not be swayed by donors or special interests. Democrats, though, are more skeptical of members of the one percent, and Steyer may have a tougher road ahead of him. 

The similarities with President Trump do not stop there. Steyer is unabashedly liberal, and is not known for diplomatic, politi-speak. During the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, Steyer’s “Need to Impeach” campaign drew the ire of some Democrats who thought the message divided the caucus and took attention away from unpopular GOP efforts to undermine Obamacare. He certainly is charting his own lane in the primaries and is out-performing sitting Senators and would-be contenders so far in the race. 

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