Politics

Joe Biden's aides huddle with Bay Area fundraisers while he takes heat for skipping California convention

Key Points
  • While Joe Biden is catching flak for skipping a California Democratic convention on the weekend, two of his senior advisors meet with fundraisers to hash out a strategy to beat other 2020 candidates in the cash game.
  • The Biden advisors, Symone Sanders and Cristobal Alex, meet with more than two dozen bundlers at the San Francisco home of Sandy Robertson, co-founder of private equity firm Francisco Partners, according to sources.
  • Other financiers at the private huddle include Richard Blum, an investment banker and husband of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the Human Rights Campaign dinner at Ohio State University, Saturday, June 1, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio.
Paul Vernon | AP

While Joe Biden was catching flak for skipping a Democratic convention in California over the weekend, two of his senior campaign advisors met with fundraisers in the Bay Area to hash out a strategy to beat out other 2020 candidates in the cash game.

The Biden advisors, Symone Sanders and Cristobal Alex, gathered Sunday with more than two dozen bundlers — people who raise money from high-dollar donors — at the San Francisco home of Sandy Robertson, co-founder of private equity firm Francisco Partners, according to people familiar with the matter.

Other financiers at the private huddle included Richard Blum, an investment banker and husband of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein; veteran trial lawyer Joseph Cotchett; Steve Westly, founder of tech investment firm the Westly Group; Denise Bauer, former U.S. ambassador to Belgium; and Wade Randlett, the president of Dashboard Technology.

Robertson confirmed to CNBC that the meeting took place but declined to provide details.

"We had a very successful meeting, but I cannot comment beyond that at the moment," he said in an email.

Robertson hosted high-dollar fundraisers for President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during their presidential runs. Blum, Feinstein's husband, has invested in Democratic campaigns for years as well and was part of the host committee for a Hollywood fundraiser that raked in $700,000 for Biden's campaign in May. Cotchett helped raise up to $100,000 for Obama's 2008 run for president, according to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Sanders tweeted a picture of her and Alex talking to supporters in California about their efforts on the West Coast.

Biden's campaign declined to comment. Beyond Robertson, the attendees mentioned in this story did not respond to requests for comment.

The meeting happened while Biden spoke at Human Rights Campaign's Pride Month Gala in Ohio and more than a dozen of his rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination attended the California Democratic Party State Convention.

Biden's decision to miss the California convention is the latest indication he's trying to approach the White House race differently from his rivals in the field. While other candidates were speaking to fellow Democrats in a state that solidly supports Democratic candidates, Biden, who has a wide lead in polls of Democratic voters, was in a state President Donald Trump won by 8 percentage points in 2016 after Obama won it in 2008 and 2012.

Yet California, the country's most populous state, is also crucial to Biden's chances in the primary and financial races. California has nearly twice as many delegates as any other state. In the last presidential election cycle, donors from the Golden State gave a combined $756 million to candidates, according to the CRP. Almost 70% of that went to Democrats.

Some California delegates took to social media to blast Biden for dodging the convention. Cari Templeton tweeted out a picture of a California highway sign with graffiti that says, "Biden can't win Michigan." She added: "True, don't ya know. And apparently he doesn't need to appear in #California either."

At the private gathering Sunday, Biden's advisors and the financiers agreed to hold at least three fundraisers in the Bay Area, according to attendees who described the details of the event on the condition of anonymity. The events, which will feature Biden himself as the marquee guest, will all be at the homes of established Biden supporters. There was also talk that Biden's wife, Jill, would be a featured guest at one of the events.

There is no firm timeline yet for the events, but Biden will be in the area soon. CNBC first reported on Biden's allies setting the stage for a San Francisco-focused fundraising tour that will also include a stop in Silicon Valley and is expected to take place at the end of June.

The group also gave updates on how much they've raised for Biden throughout northern California in the early stages of his campaign.

Last year, San Francisco donors gave Democrats $155 million during the midterm election cycle.

Rivals take aim at Biden

Meanwhile, other Democrats running for president appeared to take veiled jabs at Biden's decision to bypass the convention.

"There is a debate among presidential candidates who have spoken to you here in this room and those who have chosen for whatever reason not to be in this room about the best way forward," Sen. Bernie Sanders said Sunday, appearing to take a shot at Biden's absence from the California convention.

"Some Democrats in Washington believe the only changes we can get are tweaks and nudges,'' Sen. Elizabeth Warren told the crowd. "If they dream at all, they dream small. Some say if we'd all just calm down, the Republicans will come to their senses. But our country is in a time of crisis. The time for small ideas is over."

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg also stuck it to Biden, who served more than three decades in the U.S. Senate before becoming Obama's vice president.

"[Trump] wins if we look like more of the same. Which means that the riskiest thing we could do is try to play it safe," Buttigieg said. "There's no going back to normal right now."