Tom Steyer Steps Up His Philanthropy to Advocate for Change

Having signed Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates' Giving Pledge in 2010, Tom Steyer, a billionaire hedge fund manager from San Francisco, and his wife, Kat Taylor, have begun to play a much larger role in efforts designed to influence public policy, the New York Times reports.

After signing the pledge, Steyer, a prominent supporter of Democratic candidates, joined with former Secretary of State George P. Shultz to advocate successfully against Proposition 23, a California ballot measure financed by two Texas refiners and the Tea Party-affiliated Koch brothers that aimed to suspend clean energy standards in the state. Since then, Steyer and Taylor have contributed generously to a number of progressive causes, including One PacificCoast Bank, a community development institution that works in low-income neighborhoods, and Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group that helps children and their parents navigate media and technology. Steyer and his wife also have committed $15 million over five years to establish the Center for the Next Generation, which hopes to be a forceful voice in public policy debates related to children's issues and the environment, and have given $40 million to Stanford University and $25 million to Yale University for separate energy research initiatives.

Although the couple's philanthropic focus makes some people uncomfortable, they have pledged to be "fiercely" nonpartisan and to work only to encourage the public to think and discuss major issues. "Politics push elected officials to consider the short term in their decision making," Steyer told the Times. "We think someone needs to be talking about what we as a society want for the future and the investments we need to make to get there." 

Stephanie Strom. "Hedge Fund Chief Takes Major Role in Philanthropy." New York Times 09/15/2011.