Politics

Democratic bundlers struggle to find time to help Biden as they contend with coronavirus

Key Points
  • Several fundraisers said they are in a bind over how to prioritize Biden's bid to defeat President Trump while they fight their own battles stemming from Covid-19.
  • "They are all scared witless," said a Florida businessman who is helping Biden.
  •  A bundler helping Biden, who declined to be named as these efforts are deemed private, is working on having former President Barack Obama and his allies take part in some future events. 
Former Vice President Joe Biden, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, speaks during a virtual event seen on an Apple Inc. laptop computer in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., on Monday, April 13, 2020.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Democratic Party financiers are struggling to find the time to raise money for Joe Biden's campaign for president as they contend with the impact of the coronavirus on their businesses and personal finances.

Several fundraisers and people close to them spoke to CNBC about how they are in a bind over how to prioritize Biden's bid to defeat President Donald Trump this fall while they fight their own battles stemming from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

"They are all scared witless," said John Morgan, a Florida-based businessman helping Biden, describing fundraisers' state of mind.   

The former vice president is facing a tough haul in keeping up with Trump's massive campaign war chest. Trump and the Republican National Committee combined to raise more than $63 million in the month of March and have more than $200 million on hand. 

While that monthly total is less than the joint GOP-Trump haul of $86 million in February, it's unclear how Biden is measuring up as of now. The Biden campaign has yet to release either his first-quarter or March fundraising totals. All campaigns must file their quarterly fundraising documents by Wednesday. Biden's totals will be a key indicator of whether the pandemic has impacted his fundraising abilities. 

The bundlers' struggles make it even more important for Biden to be successful in his virtual fundraisers, which the campaign has embraced since governments enacted restrictions against social gatherings during the outbreak.

Biden and his surrogates have scheduled at least 14 virtual fundraising events from mid-April until May 6, according to a list of donor gatherings distributed to CNBC.  A bundler helping Biden, who declined to be named as these efforts are deemed private, is working on having former President Barack Obama and his allies take part in some future events. 

Obama endorsed Biden on Tuesday. The former president said he plans to get on the campaign trail as soon as he can. The tweet that included his video remarks got more than 1 million views in just under 40 minutes. Obama also signed a fundraising email to Biden supporters in the wake of his endorsement, asking people to "pitch in $5 to his campaign."

People who have either started fundraising for Biden or have been waiting to use their resources are leaders in a variety of industries, from entertainment to Wall Street. 

There's Haim Saban, a music and media producer who privately told his allies as far back as January that he was going to decide after Super Tuesday how he was going to use his resources in the presidential election to support a Democratic candidate for president. Saban spent millions helping Hillary Clinton in 2016. A person close to him now says that he isn't focused on politics and he told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview that the election is not a priority for him, at this point, due to the coronavirus. 

"I think it is on the back burner, frankly. I mean, yes, we're watching everything play out, but it's not the first thing on my mind," Saban told the publication. 

A spokeswoman for Saban did not return a request for comment. 

Then there's a Biden bundler who is involved with the restaurant chain Buffalo Wild Wings, and asked not to be named in this story in order to speak freely. This person says the company laid off hundreds of people after New York state restricted restaurants to take-out and delivery service instead of dine in.

"A certain degree of distraction is certainly prevalent. I feel it myself. Stopped serving at 16 restaurants - laid off about 900 people," this person said, while noting there might be a lack of involvement by some in the business community until June.  

A spokesman for the company confirmed to CNBC that it has started laying off employees but would not say how many people have lost their jobs. "These decisions are incredibly painful, and we don't take them lightly," said Jack D'Amato, the spokesman.  

Then there's the Wall Street executive who is also helping Biden and said that the priority right now is to keep his investment firm on track as the economy struggles to overcome the coronvirus pandemic. He noted he may not get back involved with assisting Biden until September. 

A founder of a Chicago-based construction company recently said he's not paying attention to the campaign as he is in the midst of dealing with some of his employees coming down with Covid-19, including one worker being put on a ventilator. 

"I've been in total crisis mode in my business right now and I'm not paying any attention to the campaign at this point," this person said. 

Many of these financiers say the current circumstances illustrate the need for a joint fundraising operation between the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee. That would allow big-money donors to give six-figure checks, instead of the $2,800 individual max to campaigns. The DNC previously told CNBC that it is starting to hold talks with the Biden campaign about possibly moving ahead with a joint fundraising effort. 

"Even though it's only been three weeks it feels like three years. Very wealthy people are facing financial ruination and uncertainty," said Morgan, the Florida businessman. Still, he noted that he doesn't believe the former vice president will struggle raising money in the long run. And he thinks that the DNC is going to be where Biden sees a real boost in resources. 

A spokesman for Biden did not return a request for comment.  

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