comScore

Billionaire Tom Steyer: I'm not rich, my mom is from Minneapolis!

Tom Steyer has spent $200 million in the hopes you look at this picture and think: "That man is Tom Steyer."

Tom Steyer has spent $200 million in the hopes you look at this picture and think: "That man is Tom Steyer." Associated Press

Almost a decade ago, Tom Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor, signed the "Giving Pledge," a philanthropic commitment to donating "the bulk of their personal fortune during their lifetime."

At the moment, Steyer's favorite charity is Tom Steyer for President, to which he gave north of $200 million in 2019 alone. That's about one-eighth of Steyer's estimated fortune, according to Forbes, and considerably more than the $75 million he spent promoting Democratic candidates and causes in the 2018 election cycle.

That time, Steyer's money did some good, as progressive Democrats rode an anti-Trump wave to easily regain the majority in the U.S. House, among other election wins. 

Steyer's more recent spending has made slightly less progress. From Forbes:

Steyer is polling at just 3.6% in Iowa, according to the Real Clear Politics average. On a national level, the numbers are even worse, with Steyer polling at just 1.9%.

Steyer's not even the most popular insanely wealthy guy trying to buy the race. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg polls at an average of around 8.4 percent, per 538—good for fourth place, and roughly four times Steyer's hold on the electorate.

Steyer, for his part, is trying to distance himself from his reputation as "That Rich Guy—No, the Other One, the First One, I Think It's... Tim?"

In recent speeches to Iowa voters, Steyer has said he, personally, takes a different view of his identity. “That is not how I think about myself,” Steyer recently told a crowd of Iowans. “My mom was from Minneapolis."

True as this statement is, exactly what the hell does it even mean?

Steyer's mother, Marnie Fahr Steyer, was indeed from Minnesota, and moved to New York, where she worked as a schoolteacher. Marnie was known to carry a lifelong affection for Tenmile Lake, about three hours north of Minneapolis. She bought a house there, and visited frequently, but remained a New Yorker. She married Roy Steyer, an attorney who prosecuted war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials and later retired as a partner at a prominent New York firm. Both Marnie and Roy were memorialized in paid obituaries in the New York Times.

None of the facts in the preceding paragraph say a damn thing about the wealth of Tom Steyer, whose 1986 wedding to Kat Taylor made the Times.

Mr. "T.F. Steyer" was described as "an alumnus of the Buckley School and Phillips Exeter Academy" with degrees from Yale—"where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa"—and Stanford, and was then "a partner in Hellman & Friedman, investment bankers in San Francisco." That same year, Steyer founded his own hedge fund, called Farallon Capital, which he'd run for the better part of two decades. Farallon is credited as a pioneer in getting college endowments to start investing their money with hedge funds, after Steyer wooed his own alma mater, Yale.

Gee, Tom. That all sounds like some rich guy shit.

The most depressing thing about Steyer referencing his family members—his aunt and uncle made their life in Iowa, if that... helps?—is that his messaging is undoubtedly crafted down to the very letter by campaign consultants and image stategists. Tom didn't just come up with this "mom from Minneapolis" bit. He paid professionals to come up with it.

Steyer name-dropping his mom's birthplace comes off as half-baked coastal elite snobbery: "Why, I can't be rich! My mother is from the Midwest!"

Tom: There are rich people in Minnesota. (Maybe too many?) Have been for a while. (Heard of the Daytons?) We'd tell you to drop this weird little line of thinking from your stump speech, but at this point, Tom's got bigger problems to think about than how to get those poll numbers above 4 percent. Like how to retire on just $1.4 billion.