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Politics

Billionaire presidential candidate Tom Steyer releases tax returns with key omissions

Tom Steyer
Tom Steyer released his tax returns the day after he failed to qualify for the September Democratic debate.
(Associated Press)

Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer made nearly $1.2 billion in gross income over the course of nine years, according to personal tax returns he released Thursday.

The billionaire former hedge fund manager and climate change activist, however, did not include key portions of the returns that detail his investments. The omission makes it impossible to see whether Steyer has divested from all fossil fuel investments — as he says he has — since leaving the hedge fund company he founded.

Steyer has previously faced scrutiny over his firm’s investments in coal mines, private prisons and other controversial industries, and has said he wishes he had pulled from fossil fuel investments earlier.

Steyer’s campaign defended the exclusion as consistent with federal advice.

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“Tom has voluntarily released over 2,600 pages of tax returns. His public release is consistent with Office of Government Ethics guidance with respect to not disclosing underlying assets of investment funds and general IRS guidance on requirements for entities that have to file public returns,” said Steyer spokesman Alberto Lammers.

Neither the Internal Revenue Service nor the ethics office has any jurisdiction over a presidential candidate’s voluntary release of personal tax returns.

The Steyer campaign posted the tax returns on a web page titled “Transparency,” but did not disclose the omission of scores of pages that detail hundreds of millions of dollars of investments.

“Tom has been clear that he invested in companies in all sectors of the economy and has never hid from that fact,” Lammers said. “That’s why he ultimately decided to leave his firm and focus on giving back.”

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Releasing tax returns is not required by law but had been customary for presidential candidates in recent history, until then-candidate Donald Trump refused to in the 2016 election. Many in the 2020 Democratic field have already released their returns.

The 2,683 pages of tax returns Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor, offer a glimpse into their wealth. Steyer’s tax filings, which include personal income tax, charitable foundations and political organizations, are so complicated that his financial advisors at one point asked for extensions “due to complex accounting problems.” Steyer’s campaign said he would release the couple’s return for 2018 after they file it later this year.

The personal returns show Steyer brought in nearly $1 billion in taxable income between 2009 and 2017. The vast majority of that came from capital gains on investments; not a penny came from wages or salary.

Steyer entered the presidential race in July and pledged to spend $100 million on his campaign — leading to criticism by rivals that he was trying to buy the Democratic nomination.

The returns, released one day after Steyer failed to qualify for the Democratic debate in September, include the final four years he was the head of Farallon Capital Management, the high-risk investment pool for big investors that he founded in 1986.

Steyer made $156.8 million in taxable income in 2012, the final year he led the firm, according to the returns. It was his largest annual taxable income between 2009 and 2017. The smallest, $42.1 million in 2009, came during the Great Recession.

Over that time, the couple’s effective tax rate varied between 33.8% and 51.3%, according to the returns. They paid a total of $405.2 million in federal and state taxes.

The couple, who have pledged to give away most of their wealth in their lifetime, donated $190 million to charity during those nine years, according to the summary written by the campaign.

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Before becoming a presidential candidate, Steyer was an environmental and political activist and one of the Democratic Party’s largest donors. He gave $366 million to candidates, committees, ballot measures and two groups he founded to fight climate change and call for Trump’s impeachment, according to the summary.

His political expenditures peaked during the 2016 election, when he poured $139.6 million into political efforts, the summary said. During that election, one of Steyer’s groups, NextGen Climate, spent nearly $36.5 million registering voters and on climate advocacy campaigns, according to tax filings.

Steyer, who is worth an estimated $1.6 billion, according to Forbes, has flirted with running for office in California for years, but never did.

Earlier this year he announced he wasn’t running for president, then changed his mind in July. Since then, in an unsuccessful effort to reach the polling threshold to qualify for the September debate, Steyer spent more on television and digital advertising in about six weeks than all of his Democratic rivals have all year.

Tom Steyer, the billionaire California activist, launched a long-shot presidential campaign Tuesday morning, joining a crowded Democratic field with a promise to focus on climate action and political reform — and to write a $100-million check to his own campaign.

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The field of Democrats vying to be the party’s nominee in 2020 has narrowed a bit. Here are the 19 candidates competing to face President Trump.


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