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Democratic front-runner Joe Biden on Monday appealed to a billionaire Republican donor for fundraising help in his presidential campaign. But the financier, Trump-supporting New York supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, declined.
Biden spoke to Catsimatidis, who has an estimated net worth of $3.1 billion, for about 10 minutes at a fundraiser held at the New York home of short seller Jim Chanos, according to the businessman. When Biden asked for his help, "I just smiled," Catsimatidis said.
Catsimatidis, who owns the New York supermarket chain Gristedes and ran for mayor in 2013, had praise for Biden, but he is sticking with President Donald Trump in 2020. Catsimatidis was an invited guest to the Monday fundraiser and did not contribute to Biden's campaign to gain entrance.
"I think Joe Biden is the most common sense nominee of the 23 people running in the Democratic Party," he said. "Monetarily, I did not commit to helping him but I will treat him fairly on my radio show."
Catsimatidis' decision to stick with Trump despite his goodwill toward Biden demonstrates the stranglehold the president has on the Republican donor class. Biden has claimed that he received encouragement from GOP donors.
"An awful lot of people have offered to help — and the people who are usually the biggest donors in the Democratic Party, and I might add some major Republican folks," Biden said in February, before he launched his campaign. He also repeatedly said he is open to working with Republicans in Congress if he were to become president.
Chanos, according to a pool report, said the event brought in nearly 180 guests. Donors contributed $2,800. People familiar with the Chanos donor retreat and other Biden fundraisers set for Tuesday in New York said they anticipate the events to bring in a total of at least $1 million. The Tuesday fundraisers will be held at law firms Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and Weitz & Luxenberg.
A Biden representative did not return a request for comment.
It made sense for Biden to approach Catsimatidis, despite the businessman's support for Trump. In 2016, Catsimatidis donated more than $116,000 to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's efforts. While he sent $100,000 to Trump's joint fundraising committee, Trump Victory, between June and August of that year, his donations to Clinton in 2016 included $50,000 to the Democratic nominee's committee, the Hillary Victory Fund, one month before the November general election, Federal Election Commission records show.
Catsimatidis' daughter, Andrea, is chairwoman of the Manhattan GOP and New York City regional vice chair of the state Republican Party. John Catsimatidis noted that his children are in Orlando for Trump's official reelection campaign launch Tuesday night.
The Chanos event marked Biden's first fundraising visit to New York since he launched his campaign in April.
Catsimatidis was not the only Republican at the donor meeting Monday. Former U.S. Sen. Al D'Amato was also there. Other notable guests at the event included former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who served under former President Barack Obama and Trump; Michael Kempner, CEO of public relations firm MWWPR; and real estate executive Bruce Mosler.
Kempner helped Obama and Clinton in the fundraising game when they each ran for president, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Biden took aim at some of the participants from Wall Street and made it clear that he believes they are not the backbone of American success.
"You know, you guys are great but Wall Street didn't build America. You guys are incredibly important but you didn't build America. Ordinary, hard-working, middle-class people given half the chance is what built America," he told the crowd.
Even though some of the attendees are giving to multiple candidates, organizers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, say the majority of Democratic donors in the room were for Biden.
"Many of the Democrats give to multiple candidates based on personal relationships," one of the leaders of the event said. "But this room was with Joe."
While addressing the crowd at Chanos' residence, Biden appeared to mistakenly announce his campaign has raised at least $19.8 million when he said it had brought in "360,000 donors with an average contribution of $55."
Biden isn't the only Democratic presidential candidate in New York this week. California Sen. Kamala Harris will be at a Tuesday fundraiser hosted Marc Lasry, co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, and investment banker Blair Effron. Harris' campaign aims to raise up to $200,000 there, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.