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Why big donors to Biden’s 2020 campaign are frustrated

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Why big donors to Biden’s 2020 campaign are frustrated

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As Joseph R. Biden Jr. leapt from Manhattan skyscrapers to Silicon Valley mansions to collect campaign checks in 2019, he developed a certain way of thanking the well-heeled donors who invested in his presidential campaign.

The hardest part, Mr. Biden would tell them, wasn’t just the money. It was putting their name and reputation on the line for him. And he would promise to “never, never let you down,” as Mr Biden told donors at a Hollywood executive’s home in late 2019.

Now, nearly 10 months into his presidency, some of Mr. Biden’s most loyal contributors and top fundraisers feel neglected if not outright sidelined, according to more than 30 interviews with Democratic donors, fundraisers. funds and the agents who work with them. With the loss of the governorship of Virginia this week, clearly revealing the increasingly grim political climate for Democrats, the White House has accumulated little goodwill among some of the party’s most important financiers.

Their frustrations also include impatience with the pace of substantive political change: One of the party’s major donors is now signaling that he is considering withholding funds entirely due to languishing voting rights legislation.

Donor dissatisfaction is a tradition almost as old as the campaign itself. Wealthy, empowered contributors always want more influence and access than they have. But the scale of complaints about the functioning of the Biden White House is striking and a growing source of concern among allies and Democratic officials who fear it will cause backlash among contributors the party will have to mobilize for the election soon. mid-term of 2022.

“There is a basic refrain, which is that we are being forgotten and rejected,” said John Morgan, a prominent bundler who welcomed Mr. Biden to his home in Florida in May 2019. “It’s very disheartening. do not exist.

Donors who have made suggestions or recommendations for lower-level jobs in the Biden administration complain that they never heard from anyone. The typical thank you cards or courtesy calls to people who have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, and even those who have contributed $ 1 million or more, have largely not arrived. And the pandemic has suspended all happy gatherings.

Of course, the whining of the haves will hardly attract public sympathy. But Democrats close to the Biden administration still see the snoring as a worrying sign of disorganization in the White House’s political operation, especially after much of the party’s infrastructure eroded over the course of the year. an Obama presidency that has seen historic ballot losses.

The rise of small donors online has somewhat reduced the power and influence of bundlers, who collect larger checks from friends and associates for campaigns. But Operation Biden still raised huge sums from its major fundraisers, numbering more than 800 people who raised at least $ 100,000 last year.

Biden’s advisers have described the frustrations as grunts from regular and temporary donors and maintained that the president is prioritizing addressing domestic and international challenges.

Chris Meagher, a White House spokesman, said Mr Biden was “laser focused on the agenda that people elected him to do,” including voting rights, plans for infrastructure and social spending law being negotiated in Congress, “stopping” the pandemic and the growth of the economy.

Most donors and fundraisers have refused to speak officially for fear of alienating the White House. But there was a broad consensus that the Biden team had failed to provide meaningful outreach or ways for most of the big contributors to engage or help in the first few months of the administration. The reception has been so cold that some donors have started to assume that Mr Biden is simply not considering running for re-election in 2024, finding little other reasonable explanation for neglecting a hard core.

“There is no outreach at all,” said one consolidator who raised money during the primary. “Non-existent,” said two other early Biden bundlers. “People feel dragged out to dry,” said a fourth Democratic fundraiser who raised funds for Mr. Biden.

There were exceptions.

Major donors have secured important posts in the administration, including two ambassadors last week. And Mr Biden has hosted a couple of virtual thank you events for some of the party’s biggest contributors since becoming president, according to people familiar with the matter. A Biden adviser said about 60 donors spoke to the president virtually in one evening.

Almost by accident, however, the White House turned to limiting donor influence, a long unfulfilled goal of campaign reformers and good government groups. Team Biden believe they are playing the long game by staying focused on the pandemic and the economy, which they believe will primarily shape the mid-term.

Regardless of the issue of outreach, a number of major Democratic donors, particularly in Silicon Valley, have pressured Mr. Biden to more vigorously pass voting rights legislation, considering Republican restrictions on voting rights. state level on the vote as an existential crisis for democracy. . And they grew increasingly frustrated as the issue got stuck behind the social spending package still being negotiated on Capitol Hill.

According to people familiar with the efforts, major donors pushing for more movement on the issue include Ron Conway, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist; Jeff and Erica Lawson, the founder of Twilio and his wife; Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google; and Karla Jurvetson, a physician and philanthropist who spent over $ 27 million in the 2020 election.

But none have gone as far as hedge fund leader S. Donald Sussman, who has said he is suspending political donations until such a package moves forward, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Sussman is one of the financial backbones of the Democratic ecosystem, investing roughly $ 50 million during the four years Donald J. Trump was in the White House in federal campaigns, candidates and super PACs.

A spokesperson for Mr. Sussman declined to comment.

Ning Mosberger-Tang, a Democratic donor from Colorado who invested nearly $ 300,000 in federal campaigns in 2020, has held regular meetings with like-minded donors focused on voting rights legislation and said that ‘there was’ frustration with the lack of prioritization of this issue. “She estimated the group raised $ 7 million this year to advance the cause.

Advancing voting rights legislation is particularly difficult politically. The filibuster, which still divides Democrats, should almost surely be brought to an end. And Mr Biden said the issue must wait until the spending package passes, although he recently expressed openness to “fundamentally change” the filibuster to advance voting rights legislation.

Some party officials and White House allies fear that the combination of benign neglect for early consolidators and the potential for languishing election legislation could hamper fundraising in 2022 and beyond.

But Robert Wolf, a prominent executioner of former President Barack Obama, who had faced his own complaints about maintaining donor relations after his victory in 2008, said it was good that the contributor class didn’t is not the current priority of the White House.

“They have an incredible list of priorities to fix, and after President Trump the list has grown exponentially longer,” Wolf said. “My point of view is the last thing that should be on the mind of anyone who should be the donor community.”

While almost everyone has acknowledged that the pandemic has hindered some of the easier basics of donor management – photo opportunities and in-person schmoozing – communication so far has been so lackluster that some donors have sought. privately between them for explanations, holding side-to-side conversations to ask if they had somehow offended Team Biden.

Not all donors saw a problem in being, at least temporarily, sidelined.

“They took office with an ongoing national plague,” said Ed Rendell, former Pennsylvania governor and Democratic fundraiser, adding that he and others were “rational in giving them a pass.”

Mr. Biden has followed a long tradition of elevating major donors to ambassadorial positions abroad. He recently appointed Randi Levine Ambassador to Portugal and Marc Nathanson Ambassador to Norway. The two held fundraisers at their homes for Mr. Biden in 2019. Mr. Nathanson also hosted a 2020 virtual fundraiser that raised $ 2 million.

But several donors said they were unsure who, if any, in the White House was supposed to be a point of contact. And indeed, a Biden adviser said there was no such person. Some have turned to former Biden agents and the Democratic National Committee for advice.

Major donors have already been promised in-person events with the President that have yet to take place. Packages for those who donated $ 100,000 or more at Mr. Biden’s inauguration included tickets to a future in-person event (“date to be determined”) while $ 250,000 purchased two “VIP tickets.”

So far, a Democratic fundraiser has informed donors that “DNC” means “Do not contribute” – at least until the party understands how it will be more responsive to its contributors. Yet the DNC continues to raise money and has nearly $ 75 million in its coffers.

As donors followed the action on Capitol Hill and the governor’s race in Virginia, there was another question, less urgent than some also looked at: whether there will be parties this year at the White House, which donors are usually invited to, with a chance for a photo with the president.

The decision, according to people briefed on the matter, remains under discussion.

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