Capitol Alert

Before Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer criticized Donald Trump, he invested in his casinos

Tom Steyer meets with students at John Marshall High School in Los Angeles on Oct. 28, 2014.
Tom Steyer meets with students at John Marshall High School in Los Angeles on Oct. 28, 2014. AP

Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, who positioned Donald Trump as the leading antagonist in his multimillion-dollar effort to register voters and advance a progressive agenda nationally, was an investor in Trump Entertainment Resorts, federal records show.

Steyer, a managing partner at the hedge fund Farallon Capital Management until 2012, reported a $558,000 investment in the gambling and hospitality company that operated the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J., according to a review of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission records. Trump once referred to it as “the eighth wonder of the world.”

Steyer, one of the country’s most prolific Democratic donors and a potential candidate for California governor in 2018, left Farallon four years ago to focus on increasing alternative energy. As his profile has grown, his past investments have come under increased scrutiny, which would only multiply if he ran for office.

Steyer spokesman Gil Duran said Farallon has more than 100 employees responsible for making and managing thousands of investment decisions. He noted Steyer’s commitment to contribute a majority of his wealth to philanthropy.

“Tom Steyer signed the Giving Pledge, left his business in 2012, and dedicated himself full-time to fighting back against powerful special interests like oil companies and tobacco companies, as well as bullies like Donald Trump,” Duran said in a statement. “We believe Californians can … judge Tom by his track record as a force for good who is making a positive impact in California.”

Farallon also held shares in other gambling interests valued at a few hundred million dollars over the years, including Mandalay Resort Group, Station Casinos and Anchor Gaming. “These businesses provided perfectly legal and legitimate gaming options for adults,” Duran said.

The Sacramento Bee reported last month that Steyer, starring in a pair of TV ads and co-chairing a California ballot measure to raise state tobacco taxes, invested millions of dollars in tobacco companies. Steyer, who has contributed $11.3 million to passing Proposition 56, the $2 per-pack tax, said he opposed Farallon’s investment in tobacco and insisted on a vote of the firm’s partners. Steyer lost, allowing Farallon’s stake in tobacco to proceed, Duran said.

While Steyer is not the only Democrat with financial ties to Trump, most of the associations involve the New York developer working both sides of the aisle. Trump gave at least $100,000 to the nonprofit Clinton Foundation.

In California, the state GOP took in $25,000 in Tump political contributions in 2005, and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger received $12,000 in 2007 and 2008. Democrats Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris got a combined $12,000 from Trump, with Newsom and Harris redirecting the contributions to charities after they drew political scrutiny. All three Democrats have been critical of the Republican Party’s standard-bearer.

Throughout the campaign, Steyer has relentlessly jabbed at Trump, calling him “dangerous,” and featuring his controversial comments in TV ads. In Spanish-language spots on Univision and Telemundo, Steyer’s NextGen California used video footage of Trump calling Mexican immigrants rapists and pledging to deport those in the country illegally.

Trump finally attacked Steyer at a rally last month in Florida, charging that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has received millions of dollars from wealthy donors “who want to shut down American energy altogether.”

“Radical activists like Tom Steyer have promised to spend more than $70 million this election to get Clinton and Democrats like her elected,” Trump told the cheering audience in Panama City. “In return, Clinton wants to shut down energy production all across the United States. Wait until you see your energy bills.”

The brief investment in Trump Entertainment Resorts was disclosed in a 2006 report by Farallon to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Trump’s company and its forerunners filed for bankruptcy protection five times, changing its name from Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts after the 2004 bankruptcy filing.

Battered by the 2008 economic recession, Trump Entertainment Resorts missed a $53 million bond interest payment that December, according to published reports. Trump stepped down as chairman, and his interest in the company was dramatically reduced to 10 percent. Carl Icahn, the billionaire business magnate, went on to become the company’s largest secured creditor. Trump Taj Mahal officially shuttered on Oct. 10.

Trump addressed the company’s financial struggles at a September 2015 Republican Party presidential debate.

“Atlantic City is a disaster,” Trump said. “And I did great in Atlantic City. I knew when to get out. My timing was great.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago