2020 Elections

Biden, Harris and Buttigieg rack up big money support as 2020 Democrats battle for donors

Key Points
  • Financiers in some of the biggest cities are turning to Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris as they decide whom to back in the 2020 presidential election.
  • All three have been taking part in fundraising events in some of the bigger coastal cities, including New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where many influential bundlers reside.
  • Marc Lasry, a New York-based hedge fund manager and co-owner of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks, says Harris could win the nomination.
Former Vice President and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, center, poses for selfies with bartenders during his visit to the Stonewall Inn, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in New York.
Bebeto Matthews | AP

Democratic donors from across the country have been holding fundraising events and meetings for months trying to figure out who their preferred candidate is to take on President Donald Trump.

While they haven't decided on a favorite, many financiers have put their resources behind former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris of California and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

All three have been taking part in fundraising events in some of the bigger coastal cities, such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where many fundraisers take place and influential bundlers reside.

Privately, party donors have expressed to each other a wide range of reasons for their interest in assisting these candidates.

Some donors see Biden as part of the old guard who has the potential to bring the country together after what some believe is a divisive Trump presidency.

Buttigieg, on the other hand, is appealing to financiers who argue it is time for a change in the party's leadership — and that he acts like the kind of nonpolitician who could take on Trump.

Harris is seen as a consistent winner who is so determined to defeat Trump that she could be willing to be the vice presidential candidate if she doesn't win the top spot.

Marc Lasry, a New York-based hedge fund manager and co-owner of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks, hosted a fundraiser for Harris on Tuesday, he confirmed to CNBC's "Halftime Report." The goal of the gathering, CNBC reported, was to raise up to $200,000 for her campaign. Yet she came just short of that goal, people familiar with the matter said.

Even though Lasry said he had contributed to multiple candidates, he indicated to be all in on helping Harris win the fundraising game and possibly the nomination.

"Right now, I think she's probably the best candidate. So, I like her. Look, I think you need to have somebody who has some new ideas. I think ultimately, at the end of the day, she should be the nominee," he told CNBC.

That night, Biden was hosted by former hedge fund executive Eric Mindich and was surrounded with some of Wall Street's biggest donors. That list included Roger Altman, founder of Evercore; Stephen Scherr, chief financial officer at Goldman Sachs; Steve Rattner, chief executive officer of Willett Advisors LLC; and Robert Rubin, a former Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton who is now at investment firm Centerview Partners.

Biden's New York fundraising blitz, which included a gathering at the home of short seller Jim Chanos, was estimated to bring in $1 million, according to people familiar with the matter.

A few of the people who went to the Biden event are also helping Harris and Buttigieg behind the scenes, according to people who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Rubin's appearance was a surprise, since he is known in donor circles to have rarely attended fundraisers this cycle — leading to speculation that he has decided to back Biden. Rubin has acted as an outside advisor to presidential candidates.

While donors who attended the Biden and Harris events were impressed with the contenders, the one candidate donors can't seem to get enough of is the South Bend mayor.

"Everybody is talking about Buttigieg. He's young and he's dynamic," said an attendee of a Biden fundraiser who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to being friends with members of the former vice president's campaign.

"Buttigieg is a very impressive guy, and there's a lot of true generational shift in him," a senior contributor said.

A spokesperson for Biden declined to comment. Rubin and representatives of the Buttigieg and Harris campaigns did not return requests for comment.

Second-quarter fundraising battle

Buttigieg shocked the political landscape when he announced that he had raised $7 million in the first quarter. His haul is shaping up to be even bigger in the second quarter, which ends June 30. People helping him raise cash, who also declined to be named, said they anticipate he will finish the second quarter raking in at least $20 million. Buttigieg's fundraising prowess has led to over two dozen bundlers with ties to former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to sign onto his campaign.

Joe Biden is calling out Amazon's tax practices
Joe Biden is calling out Amazon's tax practices

Nicole Avant, who helped raise at least up $800,000 for Obama the first time he ran, signaled to the Buttigieg campaign that she will go all in on helping him raise money.

Biden hinted at a recent fundraiser that he may have amassed $19.8 million after explaining he has at least 360,000 donors with an average donation of $55 since he announced his candidacy. At a money-making gathering on Wednesday in Maryland, he said the campaign has at least 200,000 contributions with average checks of $45.

It remains unclear how much Harris has brought in the second quarter. She placed third in first-quarter fundraising with $13 million. At the time, contributors from New York gave her just over $815,000, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Buttigieg raked in $340,000 from New Yorkers during first quarter. All campaigns are required to close their second-quarter fundraising books by June 30 and they will eventually be made public next month.

West Coast fundraising game

It's a similar story for top donors on the West Coast.

"In terms of fundraising, it's clearly Harris and Buttigieg," said Bay Area businessman Thomas McInerney, who is supporting Biden and helped arrange events for his fundraising tour there this month. He said Buttigieg and Harris "have been by far the most active" candidates in the state to date.

The former vice president will be heading to San Francisco at the end of June to take part in several donor retreats, including one being hosted by former Twitter executive Katie Stanton. Organizers for the Biden events say they are expecting the tour to generate at least $1 million in contributions.

That same week Harris will be in town for events of her own. Past fundraisers have also been held for Buttigieg in the area.

Big donors in Los Angeles have also been kind to Harris, Biden and Buttigieg. In May, Biden came to Hollywood for an event at the home of interior designer Michael Smith and James Costos, a former ambassador to Spain under Obama. It was there where his campaign raised over $700,000 with DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, executive and producer Peter Chernin, actor Rob Reiner and Terry Press, president of CBS Films in attendance.

The same week, Buttigieg was at a fundraiser hosted by actress Gwyneth Paltrow with entrance fees starting at $250 per person.

In March, Harris was surrounded by Hollywood's power elite at the home of film director J.J. Abrams. Tickets cost $2,800 per guest, with co-chairs donating $10,000, according to The Associated Press.

Still, none of these campaigns is close to the fundraising prowess of the president. Trump and the Republican National Committee have amassed a war chest of over $100 million since he entered the White House. The Trump campaign's fundraising apparatus doesn't appear to be on the verge of diminishing anytime soon.

The chairwoman of the RNC announced Tuesday that the president had raised $24.8 million in less than 24 hours since his official reelection announcement in Orlando. The record haul is four times the $6.3 million Biden raised in his first day as a candidate.


President Trump kicks off his reelection campaign
President Trump kicks off his reelection campaign