Billionaire Tom Steyer says his wealth shouldn't disqualify him from the Democratic nomination

Key Points
  • Longshot Tom Steyer doesn't think his billionaire status should disqualify him from the Democratic presidential nomination, despite an increasing portion of his party shying away from corporate money.
  • Instead, he tells CNBC that his experience in the private sector positions him to "expose" President Trump "as the failure he's been as a businessman."
  • "I am somebody who built a business from scratch," Steyer says during an interview from New Hampshire, the first primary state.
VIDEO2:3302:33
Dem presidential candidate Tom Steyer: Being a billionaire shouldn't disqualify me

Longshot Tom Steyer doesn't think his billionaire status should disqualify him from the Democratic presidential nomination, despite an increasing portion of his party shying away from corporate money.

Instead, the business magnate told CNBC on Thursday, his experience in the private sector positions him to "expose" President Donald Trump "as the failure he's been as a businessman."

"I am somebody who built a business from scratch," Steyer said during an interview on "Squawk Box" from Manchester, New Hampshire, the first primary state.

Steyer made billions from his investment firm Farallon Capital Management before stepping down in 2012. He has continued to profit from funds linked to the firm in the years since. Its investments in coal mining and private prisons have drawn scrutiny, as have some of the tactics the firm used to lawfully avoid paying U.S. taxes.

Asked directly about whether his ties to the business world could limit his appeal to a party that is growing disenchanted with capitalism, Steyer said he does believe there is a "problem with business in the United States."

"That's this: Business thinks that it can take over government, and has successfully done so. If you take a look at what's happened over the last 40 years, the business community has been able to write the rules for itself and how it's going to operate," Steyer said.

He said he is the person to take on business's influence in government because "I've been successfully taking them on for 10 years."

"Listen, when we were in Farallon, we invested in every part of the economy, including fossil fuels," Steyer said. But he added, in the time since: "I divested from all of those, I took the Giving Pledge, and for 10 years I've been working as an environmentalist to take on the oil and gas companies."

"What I am asking Americans to do, is to do exactly what I did myself," he said.

Steyer has been heavily involved in progressive advocacy for much of the last decade, including founding NextGen America in 2013. In July, Steyer formally entered the 2020 presidential contest and said he was willing to put forward $100 million to fund his bid.

To date, Steyer has struggled to gain traction among voters despite prolific spending. An average of national polls shows that Steyer has only about 0.4% support. He performs slightly better in the early states, with a 2.5% average in Iowa, the first caucus state, and a 2% average in New Hampshire. He did not qualify for the third Democratic debate scheduled for next week.

Steyer said Thursday he is more focused on the early states at this point.

"I've been in this race for six or seven weeks, not six or seven months," he said. "So if you actually look at the places where I'm talking to people and where my message is getting out, I'm actually moving very well and people are very receptive to it."

VIDEO13:0413:04
Presidential candidate Tom Steyer on why he thinks he can take on Trump