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Why should a billionaire with an open checkbook drive the impeachment crusade against Trump?

Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund manager, is sponsoring a movement to impeach President Trump. Jahi Chikwendiu/Washington Post

Look out America, another arrogant billionaire is on the loose.

California billionaire Tom Steyer is doubling down on his personal impeachment crusade, designed to run President Trump out of office before 2020. His latest move: targeting Springfield Democrat Richard Neal, the new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, with a TV ad, urging Neal to subpoena Trump’s tax returns and vote to start impeachment hearings.

Responding to news of Steyer’s $109,000 ad buy, Neal said, “It’s not going to make anything move any faster or slower.” When it comes to requesting the tax returns, there’s a legal process to follow, explained Neal. As for impeachment hearings, Robert Mueller’s report is still seen as the critical pivot for deciding how to proceed.


But Steyer doesn’t care about legal advice, Mueller, or for that matter, the people’s right to determine the duration of Trump’s presidency. Like most billionaires, he’s used to getting his way. When pressure like that comes from the right — as practiced by the Koch brothers — the left wails. But as the country heads toward 2020, more rich men with open checkbooks seem to be looking at the Democratic Party as if it were a distressed asset, ripe for them to take over. That, after all, was Steyer’s specialty as a hedge fund manager.

Last week’s buzz was all about billionaire Howard Schultz, the former Starbucks CEO who turned an ordinary cup of Joe into an overpriced gourmet experience. Schultz, a lifelong Democrat who thinks the party is headed too far left, is exploring the idea of running for president, perhaps as an independent. For that, progressives accuse him of a plot to reelect Trump. Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York, is also thinking of running. Before he decides, Fortune reports, he’s putting hundreds of millions of dollars into building a data-driven political operation,


Steyer said he isn’t running for anything; he’s just underwriting an impeachment campaign. Which makes you wonder. Does he really want to dethrone Trump — or help reelect him? Because the backlash to precipitous impeachment could do just that.

Neal said he’s proceeding with plans to request Trump’s tax returns, which advocates say is authorized by federal law. That entails drafting a legal rationale for obtaining them. With that done, a request can be made to the secretary of the Treasury, asking the IRS to turn over the tax forms. But no one expects Trump to turn anything over without a fight. So doing it right and carefully matters.

Elizabeth Warren, a progressive Democrat who is running for president, is already warning about the impact of the very wealthy on the 2020 race. Campaigns should not be for sale, she tweeted recently. Democrats should be building grass-roots supporters who are building a movement. Both Schultz and Bloomberg have attacked her proposal to raise taxes on top earners. Bloomberg called it “probably unconstitutional” and Schultz called it “ridiculous.” In response, she tweeted, “What’s ridiculous is billionaires who think they can buy the presidency to keep the system rigged for themselves while opportunity slips away for everyone else.”

In the end, billionaires are, first, billionaires. Most want to protect their own billions.

When Steyer ran his own hedge fund, he of course helped wealthy clients find a legal way to avoid paying taxes. Now he wants to be seen as an exception to the self-protection rule. Responding to the Schultz attack on the idea of a tax on the rich, he tweeted, “We can’t end inequality until people like Howard & me are required to invest our fair share into our country. It’s not punitive – it’s patriotic.”


Money gives him his platform. It doesn’t make him an expert on everything. It just makes him think he is.

Too soon to start impeachment process? Or long overdue? Readers, let us hear from you. Letters should be written exclusively to the Globe and include name, address, and daytime telephone number. They should be 200 words or fewer. All are subject to editing. Send a letter here.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.