Billionaire Tom Steyer meets donor threshold for next round of Democratic presidential debates

The impeachment activist inches closer to qualifying for his first onstage appearance of the 2020 cycle

By Matthew Rozsa

Published August 13, 2019 3:25PM (EDT)

Tom Steyer (AP/Charlie Neibergall)
Tom Steyer (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Tom Steyer, a billionaire former hedge fund manager and social activist, has inched closer to qualifying for the next round of the 2020 Democratic presidential debates.

The progressive Democrat, who entered the race much later than his rivals, has obtained 130,000 individual donations, one of the two requirements necessary to be able to take the stage in September's debate, according to CNBC.

In order to qualify for his first onstage appearance, Steyer must also garner at least 2 percent of the voters' support in four qualifying polls. He has already reached that threshold in two polls taken for the Iowa caucuses, which will be the first in the nation, as well as South Carolina, which will hold the fourth Democratic primary.

When he announced his candidacy for president last month, Steyer depicted himself as a candidate who would solve America's problems by taking big money out of politics.

"Almost every single major intractable problem — at the back of it, you see a big money interest for whom stopping progress, stopping justice is really important to their bottom line," Steyer said in his announcement video. "Americans are really, deeply hurt by the way they're treated by what they think is the power elite in Washington, D.C. — and that goes across party lines, and it goes across geography. We've got to take the corporate control out of our politics."

After discussing his own involvement in the Giving Pledge, a philanthropic endeavor in which the super-rich promise to give away half of their wealth to charitable causes while they're still alive, he vowed to avoid being bought by other wealthy interests.

"I'm careful about what I say about other Democrats, but there's a second part. I don't go to closed-door fundraisers. I don't hang out with millionaires and corporate CEOs. I'm building a grassroots movement. And, I think, as Democrats, we should ask that of every single one of them: Do this grassroots style," Steyer said in his announcement video.

Prior to entering the presidential race, Steyer was best known for his efforts to get President Donald Trump impeached.

"If you look at what we've done on impeachment and what we're doing, you can see that our underlying thesis is that the power in this process resides directly with the American people," Steyer told Salon in February. "So when we started the petition drive over 15 months ago, what we were implicitly saying was you may not listen to any of our new/elected officials of both parties, you may not be listening objectively to the arguments, but the American people feel strongly about this. We thought we’d get a million people to sign up. By the time of the election, we had 6 million people signed up. We now have over 7.1 million people signed up. They're joining somewhere between tens of thousands, over 10,000 people a day, as many as 38,000 people. That will include today, yesterday, the day before, the day before."

He added, "What our theory is, both for reluctant Democratic congresspeople and Republican senators, it's that they will listen to and should listen to the voices of their constituents, so what we started with was a petition drive. The people on that petition drive took over 3.5 million actions by the time of the election last year. Eighty thousand of them volunteered and wrote over a million and a half hand written notes asking voters, sporadic voters or unlikely voters of swing districts to please turn out, and what we're doing now in addition to growing the list is we're also trying to deepen the engagement of the list, trying to turn that 7.1, hopefully going to 10 million people, into a mobilized grassroots force. Because if you do the math, that’s about 20,000 people per congressional district and that’s a gigantic number. Ten thousand this way is like 25,000 people per congressional district."

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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2020 Democratic Debates All Salon Democratic Debates Democrats News & Politics Tom Steyer