Kirsten Gillibrand is outpacing other 2020 hopefuls with her outreach to big money New York Democratic donors

  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been aggressively courting top Democratic Party donors in New York as she seeks to gain an edge in the 2020 presidential campaign's fundraising battle, CNBC has learned.
  • Over the past two weeks, Gillibrand has met with a slew of financiers from a wide range of industries in her New York backyard, including those on Wall Street, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversations.
  • Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey is the only other 2020 Democratic hopeful who has come close to matching Gillibrand's outreach, said one of the top donors. Booker announced his candidacy Friday.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) greets people at the Country View Diner in Troy, New York, after announcing she will run for president in 2020, January 16, 2019.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) greets people at the Country View Diner in Troy, New York, after announcing she will run for president in 2020, January 16, 2019.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been aggressively courting top Democratic Party donors in New York as she seeks to gain an edge in the 2020 presidential campaign's fundraising battle, CNBC has learned.

Over the past two weeks, Gillibrand has met with a slew of financiers from a wide range of industries in her New York backyard, including those on Wall Street, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversations.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey is the only other 2020 Democratic hopeful who has come close to matching Gillibrand's outreach over the past two weeks, said one of the top donors, who spoke to CNBC on the condition of anonymity. Booker announced his candidacy Friday morning.

Representatives for Gillibrand and Booker did not return repeated requests for comment.

The strong positioning for Gillibrand in the New York donor circuit is significant because it could give her a financial advantage over her opponents as she builds her campaign apparatus and prepares for what will be an expensive primary.

Other 2020 hopefuls are also trying to get an early start in the fundraising battle. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who launched her candidacy last week, will be in Los Angeles this weekend for two fundraisers. One will be hosted by entrepreneur and prominent LGBT activist David Cooley, according to a report in Variety.

Harris' campaign announced last week that she raised $1.5 million through online contributions in the first 24 hours after declaring she would run for president.

Prior to her announcement, Gillibrand had been personally making phone calls to some of Wall Street's top executives about backing her campaign. She also reached out to Democratic millionaire Bernard Schwartz to discuss a 2020 run.

Democrats in the hunt for the White House have had to strike a delicate balance between seeking donations and not appearing to be too cozy with big business or rich donors. Liberal Democrats took to social media to roast Gillibrand's links to the financial industry following the reports of her gauging Wall Street and corporate interest in a possible presidential run.

Between her discussions with affluent donors, though, Gillibrand has also been appealing directly to small donors and the party's grassroots base. In a tweet on Thursday, she reiterated her campaign's decision to not accept money from a variety of special interests including political action committees association with corporations, federal lobbyists and super PACs.

"Please give. It makes a huge difference. It allows us to build a campaign based on you," Gillibrand says in the Twitter video.

Gillibrand has became a master at raising campaign cash ever since she joined the Senate in 2009. Throughout the 2018 election cycle, 32 percent of donations to Gillibrand's Senate campaign came from contributions under $200, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. She finished her victorious campaign raking in $20 million.

Her Senate campaign fund has $10 million on hand, although her exploratory committee has yet to announce its early fundraising totals.

In the past, Gillibrand has received the most contributions from lawyers, executives at securities and investment firms and retirees. The securities and investment industry gave her $1.1 million in 2018 and has spent $4.8 million supporting her career in total.

Meanwhile, Gillibrand has been hitting the campaign trail and meeting with voters since unveiling her decision to run for president.

In late January, she held 10 public events over two days in the early caucus state of Iowa. This weekend she's heading to the primary state of New Hampshire for the first time as a presidential candidate. The trip starts on Friday in Manchester, N.H.

She has also been holding speaking engagements in New York. Gillibrand recently spoke at the National Action Network's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton.