While characterizing their campaigns as "grassroots" operations fueled by the people, many 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls have reportedly been spending a significant chunk of their time on the trail cozying up to Wall Street executives and raking in checks at big-dollar events across the nation.
Two major presidential candidates, however, are eschewing the lavish fundraisers and donor meetings that have come to encapsulate the widespread corruption of the American political system: Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
"In the past, there was no candidate who didn't come to New York, Chicago, L.A. for money," Marc Lasry, the head of Avenue Capital Group and a major bundler for Hillary Clinton in 2016, told Bloomberg.
"Today," said Lasry, "there are two candidates who aren't doing that—Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders."
Bloomberg reported Tuesday that while many major Democratic candidates are "trying to outdo each other with promises to finance their campaigns with grassroots contributions," Wall Street executives say they have seen little change in candidates' eagerness to ask them for cash.
According to Bloomberg:
In February, Pete Buttigieg stepped into the Manhattan office of Wall Street veteran Charles Myers to talk politics over deli sandwiches. Citigroup Inc. Managing Director Yann Coatanlem hosted a fundraiser in March for Kamala Harris at his Fifth Avenue apartment, where she shook the paw of the banker's labradoodle. Three days later, former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. partner Bruce Heyman raised more than $100,000 for Amy Klobuchar at his home in Chicago. He's planning an event for Joe Biden this fall.
Biden—currently the 2020 frontrunner according to most polls—was the focus of a New York Times story Tuesday that detailed how the former vice president "has constructed much of his early schedule around vacuuming up as much campaign cash as possible, as his operation presses to assert his frontrunner status with a show of financial force."
John Morgan, a trial lawyer and major Florida political donor who hosted a big-dollar fundraiser for Biden on Tuesday, told the Times that the former vice president will "get my money when he comes to my house."
"He'll get my children's money. And all my friends' money," Morgan added. "All in one night."
Following the Times report, Biden's campaign on Wednesday touted the "overwhelming grassroots support" it has seen since launching last month, claiming that 97 percent of its donations have come in amounts of less than $200.
But, as Bloomberg noted, that number omits "a key detail: how much that added up to."
"With the spotlight on grassroots donors as Democrats emphasize their ability to raise money from sources other than big donors and corporate political action committees, candidates can camouflage large checks from wealthy contributors by citing the larger number of small-dollar donors, but not the actual dollar amounts," Bloomberg reported.
"Since announcing his candidacy, Biden has held fundraisers hosted by big Democratic bundlers, including former Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Comcast Corp. executive David Cohen," according to Bloomberg. "Admission to such closed-door events is $2,800, the maximum amount an individual is permitted to donate to a federal campaign."
Labor leader and organizer RoseAnn DeMoro, a high-profile and vocal supporter of Sanders, warned that if the grassroots networks don't get busy, the influx of Wall Street cash—which is "literally" buying candidates, she said—could be devastating for progressive hopes.
#Bought - literally. @SenSanders will be at a distinct disadvantage if we do not do our work.— RoseAnn DeMoro (@RoseAnnDeMoro) May 22, 2019
1% candidates will dominate the air waves with lies. We can do the groundwork but we have to be visible.
Door to door and on media. #Bernie2020https://t.co/QmudQcD5sY via @BW
Sanders himself made a similar point in a recent email to supporters, calling out Biden's big-money events—without mentioning the former vice president by name—and encouraging the grassroots to rise up in response.
"One of our opponents held JUST TWO fundraising events and walked away with $1.4 MILLION," read Sanders's email. "That's easy money. But it's also corrupting money."