- Democratic presidential candidates have largely condemned and swore off corporate and lobbyist money in elections.
- Mostly all candidates have been meeting with finance executives to fundraise for their campaigns.
- Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are reportedly the only 2020 candidates who have not been courting Wall Street.
Democratic presidential hopefuls have been voicing their opposition to money in politics, however, the majority of candidates have been simultaneously courting financial institutions to help fundraise for their campaigns.
Candidates seeking the Democratic nomination have largely been portraying their campaigns as a grassroots operation and swearing off money from corporations and lobbyists as well refusing to accept PAC donations. But nearly the entire Democratic primary field has been corresponding with corporate donors, reported Bloomberg News. Hedge fund billionaire Marc Lasry revealed that only months into the primary election season and he has already sat down with roughly 10 candidates.
“At the end of the day, candidates need money,” Lasry told Bloomberg.
New York Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand had been quietly corresponding with Wall Street senior executives in an attempt to raise money even prior to her campaign kickoff. She announced in February she would not be accepting money from political action committees — she excluded labor union PACs from that pledge.
Interestingly, the New York senator has only proposed one major policy prescription; in an attempt to “reduce the influence of money in politics” she proposed to give every voter money to donate to political candidates running for federal office.
Regardless, the New York senator has continued meeting with bankers and investors to discuss policy and gain financial backing.
Days after Gillibrand’s campaign disavowed PAC money, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker followed suit, calling America’s political system “broken” and swore off corporate PAC contributions. However, Booker continued to accept corporate cash, according to FEC filings uncovered by The Washington Examiner, and he is still meeting with financial executives.
“You have to, more than ever, be involved,” Robert Wolf, former Chairman and CEO of UBS Americas, told Bloomberg. Wolf revealed that he had already given money to nine of the Democratic presidential hopefuls and is planning on meeting with about 15 in total.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who announced his candidacy in January, notably returned more than $30,000 to lobbyists after he raised over $7 million in the first quarter of 2019. In doing so, his campaign stated that Buttigieg “will not be influenced by special-interest money.” Less than a month later, it was revealed that he had been quietly courting wealthy big tech tycoons in Silicon Valley.
Buttigieg was also just one of the Democratic contenders who met with Charles Myers a former Evercore Inc. executive, for a what Myer’s refers to as a “policy lunch.” Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee have also sat down with Myers.
“I don’t feel embarrassed at all,” Myers told Bloomberg. “Running for president and winning a general election is incredibly expensive, and the other side will raise enormous amounts of money.”
“I’ve talked to about half of [the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates] and I have not run into a single one who said, ‘Hey, you worked at Goldman Sachs, I can’t take your money’ — I’ve not heard that. Ever,” said Bruce Heyman, former partner at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Heyman was a prominent donor to Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns and one of his top fundraisers — Obama later appointed him United States Ambassador to Canada in 2014. He also raised more than $100,000 for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaign and will fundraise for former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign in the future, according to Bloomberg.
Biden’s campaign stated in April that it “does not welcome assistance from super PACs,” nor will it accept money from federal lobbyists, in an attempt to appeal to middle-class voters.
“It’s hard to believe that [candidates] think that campaign contributions from wealthy Wall Street donors might not also be a liability,” Ann Ravel, a former Federal Election Commission chairwoman told Bloomberg. However, she noted that the extensive Democratic primary field “is a strong motivator for them to accept it anyway,”
California Sen. Kamala Harris launched her presidential campaign in January, proclaiming that “she will not take a dime from corporate PACs — just people, like you.” Two months later, Yann Coatanlem, a managing director at Citigroup Inc., hosted a fundraiser for Harris in his Manhattan home.
Interestingly, while the California senator has been criticizing PAC involvement, she operates her own leadership PAC, Fearless for the People, which donates to Democrats’ elections in the House and Senate.
“In the past, there was no candidate who didn’t come to New York, Chicago, L.A. for money,” Lasry said. “Today, there are two candidates who aren’t doing that — [Massachusetts Sen.] Elizabeth Warren and [Vermont Sen.] Bernie Sanders.”
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