Biden Bashes Influence of Billionaires While Relying on their Money

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JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty Images.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is bashing the outsize influence billionaires are having on the race for the 2020 Democrat nomination, despite his own campaign relying heavily upon their money.

In a fundraising email sent to supporters on Thursday, Biden’s campaign excoriated two of his Democrat rivals for using their personal fortunes to underwrite their presidential ambitions. The email, titled “the billionaires are coming,” took direct aim at Tom Steyer and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for spending heavily to “saturate your airwaves and news feeds.”

In particular, Biden’s campaign lambasted Steyer for using his fortune to gain access to the Democrat debates, while attacking Bloomberg for skipping early primaries and spending $100 million in delegate-heavy Super Tuesday states.

“One billionaire is buying his way onto the Democrat debate stage, and one is buying his way out of it,” Biden’s campaign wrote, before proceeding to argue both billionaires were undermining “how democracy is supposed to work.”

The former vice president’s attack on the influence Steyer and Bloomberg are having is surprising given the fact his own campaign has relied heavily on billionaires to underwrite his White House hopes.

A recent report by Forbes indicates Biden has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the billionaire donor class since launching his candidacy. In the last fundraising quarter alone, the former vice president pulled in contributions from 44 billionaires—the most of any 2020 Democrat. Many of those contributing opted to max out, giving the largest sum possible for a primary campaign under federal law.

The money rolled in from Silicon Valley titans, Wall Street elites, and some of the country’s largest real estate tycoons.

Among the donors was Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google who stirred controversy in January 2017 when claiming President Donald Trump would do “evil things” in office. Schmidt donated $2,800 to Biden’s campaign in May, less than a week after the former vice president entered the race. In the past the former Google executive has heavily backed Democrat candidates up and down the ballot, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Employees from Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., have donated more than $37,000 to Biden’s campaign to date, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The hefty contributions have ensured Alphabet is one of the former vice president’s top 20 contributors. Joining a list that includes another Silicon Valley giant, Microsoft Corp.

Biden’s support in Silicon Valley has not been confined to traditional Democrats. Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, a one time Republican nominee for governor of California, donated $2,800 in September. In 2016, Whitman broke ranks by endorsing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over Trump. Since that time, the former eBay executive has become a consistent ‘Never Trumper.’

On America’s other coast, the former vice president has elicited prime backing from Wall Street and the real estate industry.

Topping the list of Biden’s Wall Street backers is Judy Dimon, the wife of JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. Although her husband, himself, has not donated, Dimon maxed out to Biden in mid-September.

The contribution comes with its own controversial history. In 2008, then-Sen. Joe Biden supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which granted large financial institutions bailouts to survive the recession. JPMorgan was one such institution, taking more than $25 billion in taxpayer money—one of largest bailouts granted to any company under the program.

The bailout came even though JPMorgan’s mortgage lending practices helped create the housing bubble that, when it burst, ultimately led the to the recession. In 2013, the bank agreed to pay a civil fine of $13 billion for its unscrupulous lending practices.

Apart from Dimon, Biden received maxed out contributions from private equity executives, like Blackstone President Jonathan Gray. Blackstone recently made a $250 million investment in a startup that helps outsource American jobs overseas.

In total, the former vice president has filled a significant portion of his campaign account from Wall Street donors, including nearly a million dollars from the securities and investment sector.

Wall Street’s contributions, however, paled in comparison to the amount of money real estate tycoons have donated to Biden. In between April and the end of September, the former vice president garnered more than one million from real estate interests.

The funds poured in from longtime allies like Neil Bluhm, a casino and real estate magnate, and George Marcus, the leader of America’s largest commercial property brokerage firms. Although Bluhm and Marcus have only donated $2,800 each, both men have hosted lavish fundraisers on Biden’s behalf that have raised unknown amounts.

Biden’s reliance on such billionaires is one of the reasons his campaign has struggled to compete financially with the likes of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Although Biden started the race with a strong funding advantage, thanks to support from high-dollar donors, he ended the most recent fundraising period well behind his competitors. In between July and the end of September, Biden only raised $15.2 million. The sum was dwarfed by that raised by Sanders ($25.3 million), Warren ($24.6 million), and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg ($19.1 million).

The former vice president’s fundraising troubles stem from an inability to make in-roads with small-dollar donors. Unlike Warren or Sanders, more than 2,900 donors have already maxed out to Biden’s campaign.

In fact, top-dollar donors make up a far higher percentage of Biden’s campaign coffers than those of his competitors. In comparison, only 38 percent of the campaign’s funds to date have come from individuals donating less than $200. Such a ratio poses a long term issue, especially when top contributors are prohibited by law from donating again until after the primary.

The disparate support between billionaires and small donors was seen as a primary motivator for Biden’s decision to jettison opposing outside help from Super PACs. Since such groups can raise and spend unlimited funds, the former vice president’s billionaire donors are no longer subject to contribution limits when supporting his campaign.

Biden, though, did not mention any of this in his email to supporters on Thursday. Instead, the former vice president kept his fire aimed at Steyer and Bloomberg, while downplaying his own support from the billionaire donor class.

“Since the day that this campaign launched, we have relied on grassroots support to power this campaign,” Biden’s team wrote.

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