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Date TimeOctober 27, 2019
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Were Asking You to Dig Deep: Biden Seeks to Steady Finances as Allies Fret
Steve Ricchetti, one of Joe Biden's closest confidantes, is reaching out to wary donors to shore up support. The Biden presidential campaign is watching costs -- some staff members are sleeping at homes of volunteers -- and facing criticism for spending on chartered jets. Biden's team is also urging allies to redouble fundraising efforts before the calendar turns to 2020 and he has fewer days to devote to the money trail.And in a confidential memo to top bundlers this week, Biden's campaign manager, Greg Schultz, sought to allay growing concerns that Biden is facing a cash crunch and will not be able to stay competitive with his rivals on the airwaves and on the ground."We will have the resources we need to execute our plan," Schultz wrote in the memo, obtained by The New York Times. But he simultaneously exhorted the money-raisers to do more: "We're asking you to dig deep."The Biden campaign and its backers are racing to contain fallout from revelations this month that his campaign is spending more money than it is taking in, unlike his leading rivals. Biden's cash on hand -- $9 million -- is now only a fraction of what Sens. Bernie Sanders ($33.7 million) and Elizabeth Warren ($25.7 million) have banked. He even has less on hand than two candidates, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Kamala Harris, who are well behind him in the polls.On Thursday, the Biden campaign delivered the clearest signal yet that it will do whatever it takes to survive financially, abandoning Biden's long-held opposition to a super PAC independent of the campaign and clearing the way for donors to give unlimited sums in support of him. Biden advisers cited continuing attacks from President Donald Trump for the reversal.Six months into his candidacy and 100 days until the Iowa caucuses, Biden is no longer the undisputed Democratic front-runner he once was. He entered the race in April making the case that, as Barack Obama's vice president and a longtime leader with moderate and liberal views, he stood the best chance of uniting the party, attracting voters across racial, gender and ideological lines and winning over swing voters in battleground states.While Biden still leads in many polls, and many voters still express deep appreciation for him, his financial situation -- the inability to consolidate traditional big-money donors or inspire a sufficiently large online base of small contributors -- has served as a flashing warning sign about the potential limits of his appeal.One rival, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, said pointedly this week that he was "getting calls from people who are Biden supporters who now want to hedge their bet" on the former vice president.Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor and a Biden fundraiser, acknowledged he had heard the anxieties. "They're worried when they see only $9 million in the bank, because donors have a tendency to believe the person with the most amount of money wins," said Rendell, who added that he does not share that view.Schultz, the Biden campaign manager, said Friday that Biden was facing a financial situation unlike any other Democrat: He is taking incoming fire from both the White House and primary opponents on a daily basis, and needs to play both offense and defense within the limits of $2,800 maximum donations."We can't both do a general election and primary. And no one can," Schultz said. Of his rivals who have denounced the super PAC reversal, he added, "If they were being attacked with $10 million-plus of outside money in a general election sense, I would love to see what they would do."Biden's allies are not only concerned about his fundraising: There is also the spending. Biden raised $15.7 million in the third quarter, but he spent $2 million more than that. Among his biggest expenses was more than $920,000 on chartered jets.Terry McAuliffe, the former governor of Virginia and a prolific fundraiser, said that donors were "furious" about the jet spending and called the campaign's overall money situation "very alarming." McAuliffe's wife recently invited donors to attend a fundraiser for Biden at their home in early November.Schultz, when asked about the chartered travel, said that "whatever maximizes Joe Biden and voter interaction, the greater chance we have to win." The campaign said Biden had flown commercial but declined to indicate when his last such flight was.The pressure over money is bound to intensify as the leading Democratic campaigns compete in the early voting states and the extraordinarily expensive media markets of Super Tuesday states like California. Warren, currently Biden's top rival, has already reserved $2.3 million more in television ads in the early voting states than he has, according to Advertising Analytics, a media-tracking firm. In the last 30 days, she spent twice as much as Biden on Facebook ads, while Buttigieg spent more than three times as much as Biden, who has begun buying more online ads after he sharply scaled back his digital spending over the summer.Biden and his advisers wave off any cash concerns, arguing he is already universally known, seen as Trump's strongest challenger and beloved in a way money cannot buy. Biden, in an interview set to air Sunday on "60 Minutes," gave a blunt answer about how he would overcome his rivals' cash edge: "I just flat-out beat them."More than most candidates, Biden has cultivated major Democratic bundlers who gather checks from friends and fellow supporters. To that end, Biden has used the old-fashioned strategy of giving fancy titles to his top bundlers: an "advocate" must raise $25,000, a "protector" $50,000 and a "unifier" $100,000. Perks, which vary by level, include monthly calls with campaign leadership, and invitations to finance committee retreats and forums.Yet Biden has struggled to line up the vaunted Obama money operation behind him. Of the nearly 800 bundlers who raised at least $50,000 for Obama's 2012 campaign -- different because it was a presidential reelection, not a crowded primary -- less than a quarter have donated to Biden so far this year, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data. An even smaller share are actively tapping their networks for him.One bright spot is that Biden's online donations have picked up of late. His best week for raising money since the second week in the race came in late September as the impeachment scandal exploded. Then, in the first half of October, he raised more online than he had raised in all of September, the campaign said.The campaign has employed some sky-is-falling tactics to spur giving, including an email last week threatening "budget cuts" if more money did not materialize. "Low on resources" was the subject line of a Friday missive. (No cutbacks are planned, the campaign said.)If Biden's fundraising does not improve, he could be hard-pressed to ramp up his operations for the primary season. Just to pay for his existing campaign infrastructure through the Iowa caucuses would require the $9 million he has in the bank now plus the full fundraising haul that he had in the third quarter.In his memo to bundlers, Schultz outlined ways they were already trying to control costs, including having the headquarters staff stay at the homes of supporters "whenever it is available.""Clearly everybody would have liked if the Biden campaign raised more in the last quarter," said Joe Falk, a Biden fundraiser in Florida. But Falk remained bullish on Biden's position in the race. "Given the full frontal assault from the Republicans, the Russian bots and the competitors, his polling numbers are holding up better than expected," he said.Despite the competition from two liberals, Warren and Sanders, who have rejected the donor class and would be further left than any Democratic nominee in many years, Biden's team has been unable to fully consolidate support of the Democratic establishment.He has been out-raised in the last two quarters by Buttigieg, who has won over many former Obama-era ambassadors as a 37-year-old fresh face for the party.On Monday, Bradley Tusk, who served as a reelection campaign manager for Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, hosted a fundraiser for Buttigieg. According to Tusk, the crowd was filled with "a lot of those people you would have thought would be Biden people. And they weren't." (Attendees included Jon S. Corzine, the former New Jersey governor and Goldman Sachs executive, who had previously attended a Biden event in the Hamptons in the summer.)"The feeling in the room," Tusk said, "was that Biden has already lost."Biden's dependence on donors who have given the $2,800 maximum amount was one reason for the reversal on a super PAC, which provides those donors a new outlet to give even more. Records show that almost 35% of the $37.7 million that Biden has raised so far has come from donors who have given the maximum."It just means we have to find new people, and the people we have found -- the people who gave $2,800 -- they ought to be able to find a buddy or two buddies," said Alan Kessler, a lawyer in Pennsylvania raising money for Biden.The super PAC reversal ignited swift denunciations from Sanders and Warren, both of whom were running anti-super-PAC ads on Facebook within 24 hours.In addition to whatever the pro-Biden super PAC does, the International Association of Fire Fighters is preparing a pro-Biden campaign of its own, with a six-figure budget of mostly online spending, said Mark Treglio, a spokesman for the union.The need for options like a super PAC reflect the reality that it can be especially hard for a candidate relying on big donors to raise money deeper into a campaign.When Biden took his campaign's first trip to Southern California in May, he held three fundraisers where a combined more than 600 people attended. But when he returned in October, he again held three events and drew about half as many people, a bit more than 300.Next week, he is headed to Florida for at least two fundraisers, according to people familiar with his schedule.Biden's advisers and allies repeatedly emphasize that while he may not compete dollar for dollar with some rivals -- or even come close -- he is intrinsically different because he is already universally known and widely liked and seen as formidable against Trump. The word they kept coming back to was "resilience."As in, Biden has suffered through six months of criticism and attacks -- from his rivals, from the news media, from the president -- and remains at or near the top of the national polls."Any other candidate, it might concern you," Mike Collier, a Texas bundler for Biden who has previously run for office himself, said of the campaign's finances. "But with someone like Joe, I'm not anywhere near as concerned."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company

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