Building what The Atlantic once described as the “biggest political machine you’ve never heard of” paid off big for liberal billionaire and Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer.
He announced early on Aug. 13, that he met the 130,000 donor threshold for the September debates.
“Just one more qualifying poll stands between us and that stage!” he added. Each candidate must have 2 percent support in four separate national or early state polls. Steyer currently has three, according to CNBC.
Just before the impeachment crusader met the donor requirements, the left-wing Atlantic reported on Aug. 13, that the billionaire was poised to get there. How? By spending millions on ads and buying donor information from two activist organizations he founded: NextGen America and Need to Impeach.
“In the span of five weeks, the San Francisco–based billionaire activist has channeled millions of dollars of his own money into trying to win a spot on the stage in September,” staff writer Edward-Isaac Dovere wrote. “If the effort works—and he’s getting close—Steyer could beat out many major candidates who have been running for president for months.”
Being a billionaire certainly helped. The Atlantic reported one of Steyer’s biggest investments was purchasing eight million voter files compiled by the Need to Impeach super PAC and renting data from NextGen America: “two advocacy groups he founded and still funds.”
That gave Steyer access “to scores of information on people.” An anonymous rival campaign aide described it to The Atlantic as buying grassroots support.
OpenSecrets noted Aug. 9, that Steyer’s digital ads targeted voters across the country and petitioned for contributions of just $1. It also found the campaign spent about $3.5 million on digital ads in its first month. That included $2.6 million on Facebook, nearly $700,000 on Google and more than $200,000 on Twitter. Steyer’s self-funded campaign spent more than $7 million combined on TV and digital advertising. Open Secrets called it an “unprecedented” amount.
According to The Wrap, Steyer spent double what President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign spent on Facebook advertising, and also outspent him on Google ads in the past month.
All that spending on Facebook ads prompted a rival campaign aide to tell The Atlantic it was a “wealth transfer” between Steyer and Mark Zuckerberg.
The Atlantic attributed Steyer’s methods and success to the Democratic National Committee’s rules. The headline of Dovere’s story declared the “rules are a game.”
“By telling candidates they need a minimum of 130,000 donors to compete at the next debates, the party [DNC] has compelled campaigns to devote significant energy to persuading voters to donate minuscule amounts of money so the candidates can make the stage—money that’s not necessarily representative of voters’ genuine support,” Dovere wrote.
A rival campaign aide complained to The Atlantic, “This shows that the guidelines set by the DNC can still be perverted by a wealthy individual who is trying to buy himself the nomination.”
Before running a campaign of his own, Steyer held records for being the biggest individual contributor for more than one election cycle. Through three electoral cycles (2014, 2016 and 2018), Steyer spent $239 million exclusively to support Democratic and liberal candidates.
In 2018, he also spent $120 million dollars alone through his “Need to Impeach” campaign in an effort to reestablish a Democratic majority for the purpose of impeaching Trump. The massive effort was ignored by ABC, CBS and NBC evening news programs in spite of its cost.
Steyer was already listed by OpenSecrets as the top 2020 spender to outside groups after giving more than $6.5 million to his left-wing super PAC. NextGen Climate Action.