Activist group Patriotic Millionaires endorses moderate congressional Democrats for 2020 race as rich donors come under fire

Key Points
  • The Patriotic Millionaires are out with their first wave of endorsements for the 2020 congressional elections. Many of them are moderate Democrats in purple or red districts.
  • These wealthy executives have publicly called for an increase in the minimum wage, eliminating tax loopholes for rich individuals and corporations, and campaign finance reform.
  • Members of the group are  mixed in their reactions to the millionaire and billionaire bashing. 
Night falls over the US Capitol as the day comes to a close on December 17, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Samuel Corum | Getty Images

A group of millionaires that support raising taxes on the rich, is endorsing dozens of moderate congressional Democrats as members of their party ramp up criticism of money in politics.

As some Democrats, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, try to portray many wealthy executives as corrupting the political system, the Patriotic Millionaires are planning to back about 50 lawmakers who have supported their priorities since entering Congress last year.

The future endorsements by the group will be for lawmakers whose policies range from moderate to those who lean left on the political spectrum. Like the Democrats they are backing in this initial round, picking up the support of the group will mean the incumbents worked to pass the Millionaires economic legislative priorities.

The activist group counts more than 200 business leaders as members, including some Wall Street executives such as Keith Mestrich, who is CEO of Amalgamated Bank and serves on the Millionaires advisory board. Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Disney co-founder Roy Disney is also a member.

Patriotic Millionaires have annual incomes of more than $1 million and sometimes assets worth over $5 million.

These wealthy executives have publicly called for an increase in the minimum wage, eliminating tax loopholes for rich individuals and corporations, and campaign finance reform. The Democrats picking up their support for the 2020 elections have voted for pieces of legislation that could make these goals a reality.

For starters, more than half a dozen House Democrats are getting nods, including Reps. Colin Allred, D-Texas, Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, TJ Cox, D-Calif., Josh Harder, D-Calif., Andy Kim, D-N.J., Katie Porter, D-Calif., and Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., according to a list first provided to CNBC.

Many of these lawmakers represent districts that are labeled toss-ups or lean Democrat by political analyst Larry Sabato. While there will be more lawmakers to see endorsements from the Patriotic Millionaires, the group has no plans to endorse a candidate for president during the primary.

Notably, they support of Warren's wealth tax proposal.

However, the group of millionaires, that came together in 2010, is sticking with Democrats who have been less critical of individual wealthy Americans than Warren, or Ocasio-Cortez and three of her liberal colleagues, who have become known as "The Squad."

The group will support candidates by issuing talking points, co-signing op-eds, making media appearances and publishing supportive videos on their social media accounts, according to Executive Director Kelsea Marie Pym. Outside of their efforts for the Patriotic Millionaires, many of the members are top Democratic donors who will likely make campaign contributions or host events for the lawmakers they endorse.

Some members have expressed dismay at being vilified by some members of the Democratic Party directly to lawmakers they're backing.

"These are people who have been successful and in the conversations I've had with them, they are people who take a little bit of offense in the argument that if you are successful, you must be greedy," Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., said in an interview. "I'm delighted to have their endorsement." he added

Casten's district is rated "lean Democrat" by The Cook Political Report.

Still, members of the Patriotic Millionaires are mixed in their reactions to the millionaire and billionaire bashing.

Morris Pearl, chairman of the group and a former managing director at BlackRock, a New York-based investment firm, says he sees the debate as less personal and more about getting money influence out of politics, something he says his organization supports.

"I honestly don't feel like anyone is trying to vilify me. I've met a lot of these people and I don't agree with what everybody says," Pearl said in an interview. "I think the vilification is that it's bad to use your wealth to gain more political power and then use political power to gain more wealth."

The group's website specifically calls for those with less income to have equal say in the political process. "Every American deserves as much political power as millionaires," it says.

There are others, however, in the organization calling for politicians to stop attacking millionaires and billionaires just because they make a lot of money and, instead, focus on policies that could curtail their influence.

"The way I think about this is to say that the rich should pay more in a higher tax, doesn't have to be an attack on rich people," said Pat Martone, a longtime attorney and a member of the group. "The people that we've been endorsing aren't attacking rich people because they're rich. There is some of that and it think that's got to stop."

Why these millionaires want to raise taxes on themselves