It's a well-known fact that running a presidential campaign isn't cheap. In the 2016 presidential elections, an estimated $2.4 billion was raised and spent between all of the candidates, and spending for the 2020 elections is already well into the millions. Dumping this kind of money into campaigns seems grossly unnecessarily, but especially so when the candidate has a very, very low chance of winning.
Enter Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmentalist who dropped $12 million on advertisements to increase name recognition and still failed to cross the 2% threshold that would reserve him a spot in the September Democratic debates.
Though other, more successful candidates have spent at least this much (which is symptomatic of a much, much bigger problem regarding campaign costs), the cause is less futile because these candidates actually have an established following and a shot at winning the nomination. For candidates like Steyer, it seems as though their resources could have gone a lot further if they had just acknowledged their defeat and stopped pouring money into an unsuccessful campaign.
This isn't to say that Steyer is not a philanthropist. He's donated much of his wealth to charitable causes. He founded OneRoof, an organization that aims to bring literacy and employment skills to rural India and Mexico. He also uses his wealth to aid environmental nonprofits like NextGen Climate and promote income equality.
For the other 99% in America, though, $12 million is still no small sum, and it's aggravating to see the wealthy throw it around on a lost cause when it could potentially help a lot of people.
Here are eight things Tom Steyer could have used this massive sum of money on instead of a failing campaign.
1. Fund climate change research
Climate change is one of the most pressing issues the world faces right now, and more research is direly needed. $12 million is enough to fund projects like breeding plastic-eating bacteria or bringing back urban forests. These are things that would have a far more meaningful impact on the climate than even a successful campaign for Steyer would.
2. Clear student loan debt for 322 students
As of 2019, the average amount of student loan debt for borrowers in America is $37,172. With $12 million, Steyer could completely clear student loan debt for 322 Americans. That may just be a drop in the bucket when it comes to all of the people severely in debt, but helping just a few people is better than helping no one.
3. Build three or four wind turbines
Commercial-scale two-megawatt wind turbines can cost anywhere from $3-$4 million. Four wind turbines of this size could theoretically be enough to power 1,800-2,400 homes for a year, lessening the need for fossil fuels and lowering the impact on the environment.
4. Open 1.5 Planned Parenthood clinics
In 2017, a Milwaukee Planned Parenthood carried a price tag of about $8 million. Planned Parenthood faces a loss of federal funding under Trump, and the organization could soon be in desperate need of outside donors. Steyer's $12 million would have been enough to open up an entire clinic with some left over.
5. Build more than 5,000 houses for the homeless
Assuming a cost of $2,200 apiece, Steyer could have used his money to construct tiny houses that would provide shelter for families of three or four. With $12 million, 5454 of these shelters could have been constructed as a part of the Low Income Housing Institute and potentially house up to 21,000 homeless people.
6. Send 2,495 Students To Community College
Average tuition for in-state community college is $4,808. With $12 million, Steyer could have sent 2,495 students to community college for a year for free. Access to higher education for those below the poverty line is becoming more accessible, but an extra $12 million in tuition assistance would make a big difference in a lot of people's lives.
7. Provide 3,000,000 people with clean drinking water
An estimated 2.2 billion people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water. Building wells in dry places is one way to ensure safe groundwater access, and $12 million could build 1,500 wells in Mozambique and Malawi, since each well serves 2,000 people, about 3 million people would benefit from $12 million invested directly in clean water access.
8. Buy 60,000,000 meals for the hungry
According to Kids Against Hunger, one meal for a child costs about $0.20. With $12 million, Steyer could have bought about 60 million meals for those without reliable access to food in America.
None of this is to say that Tom Steyer is a bad person, or that he hasn't done many things for charitable causes in the past. However, $12 million is a lot of money that could have gone a very, very long way if not invested in a cause that was lost from the beginning.