Biden eyes fundraising challenge amid new sense of urgency
By STEVE PEOPLES and JULIE PACE
Sunday, March 10
NEW YORK (AP) — On the cusp of another White House run, Joe Biden faces a daunting challenge that could complicate his path to the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination: money.
Those close to the former vice president believe he would start off at a fundraising disadvantage compared to would-be rivals, whose campaigns have benefited from an early flood of small-dollar donations from the most liberal wing of the party. Biden, a 76-year-old lifetime politician with strong connections to the party’s establishment, would be forced to rely on an “old-school grind-it-out” plan to generate campaign cash from wealthy individual donors, according to a person with direct knowledge of Biden’s thinking.
Questions about money are among the nagging issues Biden is still considering as he weighs launching a campaign. He’s decamped this week to St. Croix, a favorite Biden family vacation spot in the Caribbean, to discuss the remaining roadblocks with his wife, Jill.
Biden has long disliked the time-intensive process of political fundraising. But with virtually no campaign operation in key states, he’d need to generate millions of dollars in a matter of weeks should he enter what is expected to be the most expensive presidential campaign in U.S. history.
“He obviously has a lot of friends among the Democratic donor community,” said David Axelrod, one of former President Barack Obama’s top political advisers. “But fundraising today is turbo-charged by social media. He’s not of the social media generation.”
The fundraising question comes as Biden allies across the country feel an increasing sense of urgency for the Democratic heavyweight to declare his intentions. He has repeatedly hinted that he’s close to making a decision, but those close to him now believe that an announcement, which some expected in January, might be delayed until April.
Democrats in key primary states are warning that it’s becoming more difficult to persuade Biden holdouts to be patient as a crowded field of presidential contenders such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, California Sen. Kamala Harris and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders actively fight for their support.
In South Carolina, which holds the first primary contest in the South, Charleston County Democratic Party Chairman Brady Quirk-Garvan said Biden’s indecision has created a holding pattern for potential staffers and supporters. As time drags on, he said, he’s fielding calls from some who are confused by Biden’s indecision.
“Several have said it’s concerning that he can’t seem to make up his mind,” Quirk-Garvan said. “If you’re going to run for president, most people want someone who’s pretty damn sure they want to be president.”
Biden has made clear to his family, friends and advisers that he wants to run, but he has held off giving his team the final go-ahead to launch a campaign. Among the factors giving him pause is concern about the impact a presidential run would have on his family, particularly given his son Hunter’s complicated personal history.
Even so, Biden adviser Steve Ricchetti has been signaling to potential Democratic rivals that Biden is expected to run. Other advisers including Greg Schultz and Peter Kavanaugh have been in regular contact with potential staff across the country to ensure Biden could quickly ramp up a national organization.
Those close to Biden expect him to signal his decision — at least internally — in the coming days to be followed by an intense period of hiring ahead of an April announcement should he decide to run.
Biden’s likely entry into the race was among the factors that led former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to decide this week that he would not launch a campaign. Biden and Bloomberg spoke after the former mayor announced his decision, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation.
That person, like others in the story, spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.
Biden has openly raised questions about the social media and fundraising landscape, which has changed dramatically since he first joined Obama on the Democrats’ 2008 presidential ticket.
Several 2020 Democratic contenders have condemned super PACs in recent weeks. Warren, who has been struggling to raise money, took it a step further late last month, vowing not to court wealthy donors at all.
Biden acknowledged during a recent appearance at the University of Delaware that fundraising is a major consideration.
“We also are making a decision on whether or not we can fund this campaign on my conditions because I will not be part of a super PAC — and to see whether or not it’s realistic,” Biden said. “An awful lot of people have offered to help — the people, who are usually the biggest donors in the Democratic Party, and, I might add, some major Republican folks.”
A frequent headliner on the Democratic money circuit, Biden is well-known among donors but does not have a pool of big-dollar fundraisers lined up ready to commit to his campaign.
And his fundraising track record is underwhelming at best.
He faced little more than token opposition in his long run as a Delaware senator, requiring a relatively light fundraising burden. And in his 2008 presidential run, Biden raised barely half of the $20 million fundraising goal he set before dropping out of the race following a weak finish in the Iowa caucuses.
He was outraised by four other Democratic candidates in the final three months of his campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
With no clear front-runner in the crowded 2020 Democratic field, many of Obama’s donors are holding off on making commitments to one candidate or plan to give smaller amounts to multiple candidates in the coming months. Biden’s entry into the race is unlikely to change that approach, according to a Democrat who has spoken to several Obama donors.
But at least one Obama donor, Don Peebles, a two-time member of the former president’s national finance team, expressed confidence in Biden’s fundraising ability.
“I think he’d raise more money than several of the top candidates combined,” Peebles said, vowing to support Biden if he runs. “He’s the best chance that the Democrats have to win in November.”
Some Biden loyalists are not as patient.
In Iowa, Roxana Moritz, who was part of Biden’s Iowa steering committee during his failed 2008 bid, expressed concern that by waiting so long, Biden was allowing other candidates to peel off some of his supporters.
“The longer it goes, the harder it gets” for the former vice president to consolidate support, said Mortiz, the Scott County auditor.
While she’s still certain to support Biden if he runs, Moritz is getting anxious.
“I wish that he would be clear on his plans,” she said.
Pace reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C.; Alexandra Jaffe in Des Moines, Iowa; and Hunter Woodall in Manchester, N.H., contributed to this report.
Opinion: What’s Mitch McConnell So Afraid Of?
By Brent J. Cohen
With the passage of H.R. 1, the House of Representatives just approved one of the boldest election and campaign reform bills in decades. H.R. 1, also called the “For the People Act,” has been heralded as a sweeping anti-corruption and pro-democracy bill. With provisions to boost youth civic engagement, enact Automatic Voter Registration, Election Day registration, and a small-dollar campaign finance system, H.R. 1 has the potential to transform who gets a say in our democracy.
Yet, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already come out in opposition to the Senate companion bill. With voters under 35 set to make up 37 percent of the electorate, but facing a mountain of barriers to voting, I have an idea why McConnell might be opposed to this bill: He’s afraid of young people voting.
In last year’s midterm elections, young people voted in historic numbers, increasing turnout from 20 percent in 2014 to 31 percent in 2018. This incredible turnout should be celebrated, but the reality faced by the 69 percent of young eligible voters that did not — or could not — vote must be examined.
Young people face widespread barriers when it comes time to cast a ballot. For years, Republican state lawmakers have attempted to suppress the voice of college students in every way possible. In 2014, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner banned state college and university campuses from serving as early voting sites. A federal judge later ruled that move unconstitutional, saying Detzner’s decision showed “a stark pattern of discrimination.”
In Michigan, young people have to navigate a complex and cumbersome system to cast a ballot, including a requirement to appear in person at a Secretary of State branch or local clerk’s office if trying to vote absentee for the first time. And last year in Texas, a group of students sued the county for not offering any early voting locations for the first week of early voting in Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university, and the predominantly black town of Prairie View. These types of voter suppression are not isolated — they’re part of a coordinated attack in states and districts across the country.
H.R. 1 tackles these suppression efforts head on. By directing institutions of higher education to designate a “Campus Vote Coordinator,” the legislation would give college voters a designated person who would guide them through the complexities of the electoral system and keep them up to date with voting information.
But perhaps the boldest provision in the bill is Automatic Voting Registration (AVR). Young people are naturally transient, changing addresses more than twice the rate of older Americans. This reality is acute for college students who bounce around from a parent’s home, to college, to a home of their own.
With AVR, H.R. 1 acknowledges this problem, creating a system where an eligible voter’s registration information is automatically electronically transferred from government agencies to state election offices and gets updated if the voter moves.
Election Day registration would also directly benefit eligible young people, many of whom juggle multiple jobs and school, to register to vote and cast a ballot on Election Day. Additionally, the bill’s proposed small-dollar campaign finance system would restore power to regular Americans contributing to candidates and campaign, and ensure the voices of millennials, who the Federal Reserve recently said was the poorest generation, are not drowned out by special interests and the super wealthy.
It’s no secret that young people want to be politically active and have their voices heard. As evidence, one need look no further than March For Our Lives. After the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida, young people across the country took to the streets in one of the largest youth demonstrations in American history to denounce weak gun laws, NRA-bought politicians, and demand change. And with climate change, young activists are targeting lawmakers from both parties, risking arrest, and offering bold solutions to the climate change crisis.
Mitch McConnell is good at one thing: reading the tea leaves. He’s seen how an energized electorate can flip a chamber and usher in lawmakers that reflect America’s younger generations. He’s also seen the headlines and read the polls on how millennials and Generation Z are set to upend our modern political system.
McConnell is afraid of America’s young people. If he didn’t fear young people and their resolve for change, he would be working to eliminate barriers to our electoral system and making voting fair and accessible to all.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Brent J. Cohen is the executive director of Generation Progress, the youth-engagement arm of the Center for American Progress. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Opinion: Law Enforcement for the Highest Bidder
By Manny Alicandro
If a wealthy businessman paid the salary and benefits of a local police officer whose chief function was to harass the businessman’s rivals, the community would be appalled — and justifiably so. The police are the enforcement arm of the statement to keep the public safe. That is a lot of power. Accordingly, our system provides for standards and parameters on how that power is yielded, or at least it should be.
Such safeguards have been abandoned with the staffing of state attorneys generals’ offices in nine states and the District of Columbia with lawyers effectively paid by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to go after oil companies. This is equivalent to using a public office to advance individual goals. Last fall, the Wall Street Journal took a dim view of what it termed “state AGs for rent.”
In August 2017, New York University law school launched the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center with a $6 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. There was nothing opaque about the center’s mission. It was to make sure state AGs had the personnel needed to pursue an activist agenda on climate change. It is now evident that in pursuing that mission, ethical lines are being crossed.
The “special assistant Attorneys General” dispatched by the Bloomberg-funded program are not merely being paid for by New York University and providing legal expertise to help enforce state environmental laws. They are using a public office to sue oil companies that Bloomberg and his environmental activist allies blame for climate change and insist should pay to address its possible consequences.
This was evident when then-acting New York state Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced a suit against ExxonMobil alleging the company misled investors and shareholders about the impact of climate policies on the company’s long-term profits. Critics said Underwood was exceeding her statutory authority but the fact that Matthew Eisenson, on loan from the State Impact Center, was among the individual lawyers bringing the suit on New York’s behalf prompted ethical concerns.
Within weeks, the Government Justice Center, a conservative watchdog organization, filed a complaint with the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics accusing the attorney general’s office of misconduct for enabling resources provided by private interests to set and execute public policy.
From the start, there have been contortions around the ethical legitimacy of embedding environmental activists/attorneys in state offices. Oregon’s attorney general flagged the description of these lawyers as “volunteers” as not passing the smell test. There has also been resistance to transparency. Earlier this year a judge ruled that Virginia’s attorney general must abide by a Freedom of Information Act request to learn more about the responsibilities of an attorney from the center. State law appears to stipulate assistant AGs must be paid with taxpayer dollars, not private organizations or individuals.
What makes the special assistant attorneys general financed by Bloomberg so unsettling is the appearance of a partisan agenda. He has given millions to Democratic candidates. The attorneys general who have publicly enlisted the help of fellows from the center are all Democrats.
Such issues raise fundamental questions about the role of state AGs. In the narrowest sense, they enforce state laws on behalf of the people of their states. As so many political and policy questions have become nationalized in recent years, it is no surprise that some AGs have taken on high-profile so-called public interest suits, such as those against oil companies.
Whether or not one thinks this kind of political activism exceeds the AG’s job description, it is hard to countenance putting lawyers paid for by for an activist billionaire in the service of that activism. Imagine if Koch Industries paid the salaries of assistant attorney generals detailed to thwart suits against the company.
Ideally, attorneys general in other states will put a halt to this ethically tinged practice. That seems unlikely since beneficiaries and benefactor are of one mind. At the very least, the nature of the special assistant attorneys general’s work merits close scrutiny by organizations dedicated to good government and legal ethics, along with an informed public unwilling to have billionaires call the shots in how the law enforcement power of the state is funded and deployed.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Manny Alicandro is a New York City attorney specializing in compliance, regulation and governance. He is a former candidate for New York attorney general He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
The Time Has Come for Democrats to Impeach Brett Kavanaugh
And no, ‘he’s just not worth it’ is not an acceptable excuse.
By Elie Mystal
Donald Trump is up for reelection in about 18 months. Even if he wins, he is term-limited out of office after 2024. Even if he declares a national emergency and appoints himself dictator for life, Trump is a 72-year-old man with the diet of the Hamburglar. Most people reading this will outlive Donald Trump.
Many of us will not outlive Brett Kavanaugh. And the Constitution vests him with power for the rest of his natural life. If Democrats are going to make a move against any federal official, it should be against the Supreme Court justice who is under the cloud of 83 ethics violations.
State and federal prosecutors might someday hold Trump and his associates accountable in court for their apparent wrongdoing. Not so with Kavanaugh. Those 83 ethics complaints, all inspired by his conduct at his nomination hearings, were dismissed in December by 10th Circuit Judge Timothy Tymkovich. Last week, the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit rejected 20 appeals to reinstate the complaints. No ruling has been made about the validity of any of the allegations. The court dismissed the claims because it believes it has no authority to hold a sitting Supreme Court Justice accountable.
The ruling is not surprising. Even in the face of serious charges, there is simply no mechanism under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act for a lower court to move against a sitting Supreme Court justice. Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts is apparently thinking about imposing some kind of code of conduct upon his colleagues, but currently none exists. Supreme Court justices live by no code of ethics other than what they feel like when they wake up in the morning, and if that sounds okay to you, let me introduce you to a man named Clarence Thomas, who should populate your nightmares.
But there is a constitutional mechanism to do something about Kavanaugh and the many, many lies he is accused of telling. That process is called “impeachment.”
The process to impeach a Supreme Court justice is exactly the same as the process to impeach a president: a majority vote in the House of Representatives brings the charges (those charges are what we call “impeachment”), then there is a trial in the Senate. A two-thirds super majority vote in the Senate is required to convict and remove a judge, or president, or any other federal official from office.
Because removal requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate, I know some Democrats will say that bringing charges against Brett Kavanaugh—impeaching him—is pointless. Some Democrats insist on living in a country where nothing is “worth it” unless Republicans are likely to agree.
I refuse to live in that world. If I waited for Republican approval before I tried something, I’d be shining shoes at Grand Central, as would befit my station. Laws must be upheld, and the Constitution must be defended, whether Republicans join the effort or not. I voted for Democrats up and down the ticket to fight for our institutions and norms, not to capitulate because the battle is hard.
If the Democrats would just stop running away long enough to actually face the enemy, they might see that the case against Kavanaugh is incredibly strong.
First, you have those 83 ethics complaints. The fact that the 10th Circuit court threw them out for lack of “jurisdiction” is an invitation for Congress, the one body with jurisdiction, to investigate them. To not investigate them would be a dereliction of the duty the court laid squarely at Congress’s feet.
And we know there’s a lot to investigate. We know Brett Kavanaugh lied to or misled Congress repeatedly during his 2004 testimony about his efforts to help another judge, William Pyror, secure Senate confirmation. In 2006, it looks like he materially misled Congress again, this time about his involvement in Charles Pickering’s nomination to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Senator Patrick Leahy, former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote an entire op-ed detailing Kavanaugh’s misleading testimony in front of the committee in the past.
Kavanaugh’s less-than-truthful testimony is a documented fact. A full hearing on whether these lies and statements were actual perjury—which requires some level of self-awareness at the time you are lying—or immaterial misstatements, is warranted. If Michael Cohen can go to jail for three and a half years for lying to Congress, even though he agreed to cooperate with Congress at the end, then Brett Kavanaugh can certainly be investigated for lying to Congress and being a sneering, disrespectful Saturday Night Live caricature while doing it.
Impeachment proceedings would also help us get real answers to two of the questions that have dogged Kavanaugh since he became a Supreme Court nominee. The first issue is that of his debts. Excellent reporting has been done about the $60,000 to $200,000 in debt Kavanaugh had, and then mysteriously paid off. Kavanaugh’s official line has been: he bought a lot of baseball tickets to the Washington Nationals and his friends paid him back.
I don’t know intelligent people who actually think that is the full story. Even Bryce Harper didn’t like the Nationals that much. The debt issue goes directly to whether or not Kavanaugh is corrupt, and it’s kind of important to know whether a Supreme Court justice owes favors all over town to support his “baseball” habit.
Speaking of habits, the second issue involves Kavanaugh’s “dice games.” Documents produced during the confirmation hearing revealed a disturbing e-mail from Brett Kavanaugh: “Apologies to all for missing Friday (good excuse), and growing aggressive after blowing still another game of dice (don’t recall). Reminders to everyone to be very, very vigilant w/r/t confidentiality on all issues and all fronts, including with spouses.”
Here again, Brett Kavanaugh’s “alibi” strains credulity. He has claimed that he was just hanging out with friends, playing dice for “non-monetary stakes,” and talking about an upcoming date he was going to have with his now-wife. He says that he wanted his friends to be “confidential” about his feelings for her, because he was afraid that they would somehow get back to her. He hasn’t addressed whether he’s now or has ever been a blackout drunk, beyond screaming “I like beer,” which, I’ll remind you, is not an answer to anything.
Apparently, Brett Kavanaugh wants us to believe that he’s a nice boy living in a RomCom. Like he’s Ben Stiller trying to get a date with Drew Barrymore and it’s just his buddy Vince Vaughn that does all the crazy stuff.
I don’t know what kind of debts Kavanaugh has or had, but I know I want all of his friends, under oath, testifying to dice games, baseball games, debts, and “growing aggressive.” This man lied to or misled Congress in 2004. He lied to or misled Congress in 2006. How blind do you have to be to think that he didn’t lie to or mislead Congress in 2018?
You’ll note that I haven’t even brought up the elephant that is indelible in the hippocampus. Impeachment charges can be brought against Brett Kavanaugh without letting Lindsey Graham torture Dr. Christine Blasey Ford for even another second. The craven and toxic Republican caucus need not get one additional shot at Dr. Ford, or Deborah Ramirez.
Republicans know that they’ve put an alleged attempted rapist on the Supreme Court. And they are cool with it. Graham, in particular, seems engorged by his role in this travesty: a picture of Kavanaugh and Graham has been Graham’s Twitter avatar for months now. The Republican base seems to have enjoyed forcing Kavanaugh upon the rest of us. Sorry if I’m not particularly interested in their opinions on impeachment.
So far, Republicans have gotten exactly what they bargained for with Brett Kavanaugh. He has indicated deep hostility toward Roe v. Wade. He’s been a reliable conservative vote. And in his most recent concurring opinion, he revealed a hint of the partisan hackery that Republicans so desperately wanted on the bench.
What are Democrats going to do about it? Live with an arguably dishonest, alleged attempted rapist for 30 years, like freaking saps? Because Republicans don’t believe ethics applies to their side of the aisle?
Democrats cannot let fear of these deplorable people scare them away from doing their jobs. Impeachment is not a political tactic; it is a constitutional responsibility. The courts are basically screaming: these charges are serious (they literally said it), we cannot do anything, only one body has the power to regulate bad behavior emanating from the Supreme Court.
If Democrats are not willing to uphold the constitutional duties of their offices, then why the hell did they run for them? What kind of weak and feckless body pounds on pathetic and powerless Trump associates for “lying” to them, but refuses to interrogate a constitutional officer for the same offense?
Brett Kavanaugh must be investigated and impeached. Refusing to do this work, when you are the only body in the country with the constitutional power and responsibility to hold Kavanaugh accountable, is abject cowardice.
And in case you’re wondering, no, there is no “double jeopardy” when it comes to impeachment. If it were me, I’d file impeachment charges against Brett Kavanaugh every year until the day he is removed or dies. Then again, I have a spine.
Elie Mystal is the executive editor of Above the Law and a contributing writer for The Nation, as well as the legal editor of WNYC’s More Perfect. He can be followed @ElieNYC.