Forbes magazine says Tom Steyer is worth $1.4 billion dollars, which makes him the 344th richest man in America.
Given there are about 314 million Americans, that makes him one in a million. So he’s not the top 1%. He’s the top 1% of the 1% of the 1%.
Unlike many San Francisco billionaires, Steyer didn’t make his money as a dot-com genius. The bank he built, Farallon Capital, made large investments in the oil industry and pipelines.
According to stock filings, Farallon owns $55 million in a pipeline company called Kinder Morgan, and they used to have much more.
Kinder Morgan has been quietly and safely pumping oil from northern Alberta to Vancouver, and putting it on tanker ships in the Burrard Inlet, for decades.
In 50 years, there has never been a navigational incident.
Farallon had hundreds of millions of dollars invested in Nexen, when a Chinese state-run oil company called CNOOC bought it for 60% above market price.
And Farallon invested tens of millions of dollars in BP – after the explosion and leak at their offshore drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
The man’s a capitalist and he loves his oil.
Or at least he used to. But he retired last year, selling the firm to his partners. He’s 56, sitting on $1.4 billion, and bored.
So Steyer has decided to get involved in politics.
Except his politics have one dominating feature – they’re anti-oil. Or, to be more specific, they’re anti-oilsands, anti-Canada and anti-pipeline.
Steyer has bankrolled a PR campaign against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would bring Canadian ethical oil down to Texas to displace conflict oil from Venezuela. Steyer hasn’t campaigned against OPEC oil. It’s Canadian oil he’s against.
The same Canadian oil that helped make him rich.
Steyer produced a 60-second TV ad, personally smearing the president of TransCanada Pipelines. It was so extremist and grotesque that TV stations simply refused to air it as a matter of taste, let alone legality.
Even Naomi Klein, the millionaire Marxist who opposes the oilsands, called it “incredibly crappy and xenophobic.” When you’ve alienated the G20 activists, you know you’re deep into wacko territory.
Steyer is important for three reasons.
First, it’s more proof the anti-oilsands campaign is bankrolled by foreign billionaires who think Canada is a plaything, like a new yacht.
Second, it shows the hypocrisy in the Media Party when it comes to big money trying to skew a debate. If an oil billionaire were spending millions on pro-oilsands propaganda and donating millions to pro-oil candidates, it would be a national scandal, proof that politics are being bought by 1%ers. But there’s hardly a peep when a leftist does it.
The third and most troubling point is, it’s working. In April, Steyer hosted an exclusive fundraiser for U.S. President Barack Obama at his San Francisco mansion, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.
Obama told Steyer, “we can do so much more.” And – surely a coincidence! – last week Obama suggested he would delay a decision on Keystone XL until 2014.
Which is worse: A billionaire who got rich off of oil, but wants to shut down the industry, now that he’s got his payday? Or a U.S. president who favours OPEC oil over Canadian oil, and is happy to call Steyer his friend and fundraiser?
This column was written for Sun News August 27 2013.