Tom Steyer is pumping money into black organizations in South Carolina and other early voting states, seeking every possible foothold with the Democratic Party’s most coveted voting bloc.
Hidden amid millions of dollars spent on TV ads and mailers in Steyer’s latest campaign finance report are donations totaling more than $60,000 to black organizations and institutions across the country. They include $10,000 to the Columbia, S.C. chapter of the Urban League; $7,500 to an African American cultural festival in Iowa; and another $10,000 to the Charlotte, N.C. black political caucus.
In South Carolina, two black Greek-letter organizations received a combined $3,700 towards community service events. Allen University, where Steyer first announced his sweeping plan to bolster historically black colleges and universities, got a $5,000 contribution. Ahead of Saturday’s Nevada caucuses, Steyer shelled out $1,600 to the Northern Nevada Black Cultural Awareness Society and another $2,500 to the Las Vegas chapter of The Links, Inc., a black women’s organization.
The donations go hand in hand with Steyer’scontinued recruitment of black political figures in South Carolinaas a key part of his strategy to break into the Democratic presidential race. The billionaire barely figured in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, but he has scored better in more diverse South Carolina and Nevada in public polling, and his courtship of black voters is a big reason why.
“Do I think it’s gonna work? Yes, I do,” said Johnnie Cordero, chair of the South Carolina black caucus and a Steyer backer. “He uses black vendors, black establishments, which is all part of the overall program.”
A former hedge fund chief, Steyer was at the top of the Democratic donor class before he launched his presidential bid. His PAC, Need to Impeach, spent over $15 million in 2018 and continues to run TV and digital ads targeting president Trump. As a democratic donor,he’s given nearly $250 million— more than Michael Bloomberg or George Soros — to democratic candidates, PACs and issue groups, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Now, as a presidential candidate, Steyer has spent more money in South Carolina than any other contender. He is currently polling in third place at 15 percent in the state, according to aThursday Winthrop University poll. His staff in the state, the largest of any campaign, points to its makeup of mostly native South Carolinians as one of its greatest strengths in making connections there.
Steyer’s donation to the Columbia Urban League included a $5,000 sponsorship for the organization’s Martin Luther King Day breakfast. Of the eight presidential candidates who attended the January event — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Deval Patrick and Tulsi Gabbard — Steyer was the only one to give a donation.
“I guess the assumption is that Steyer gives a donation and it gives him more leverage with African-American voters…but every candidate had an opportunity to bring greetings” at the January’ event, said J.T. McLawhorn, president and CEO of the Columbia Urban League, which is nonpartisan. “I think campaigns are evolving. Most times campaigns come to South Carolina and they pay consultants, but for the most part they don’t support organizations.”