Biden’s New PAC Could Be A signal… Or Not

Joe Biden created a PAC — a sign he may be gearing up for a 2020 run, just three years early. 
Joe Biden created a PAC — a sign he may be gearing up for a 2020 run, just three years early. 

Remember when we told you super PACs are already gearing up for 2018, and even in some cases 2020?

Looks like a potential challenger to President Donald Trump is also stocking a war chest more than three years in advance: former Vice President Joe Biden.

“[T]he negativity, the pettiness, the small-mindedness of our politics today drives me crazy,” Biden wrote in a Medium post announcing the group. “In America, everyone is dealt in on the deal. You don’t need to be born into money or power or influence.”

Though he has not said he will run for the White House (back in May he said, “Could I? Yes. Would I? Probably not.”), Biden, 74, announced Thursday he’s formed a political action committee called American Possibilities. He plans to use the account to donate to Democratic gubernatorial candidates this year and congressional ones in the midterms, as well as to fund his travel for speaking appearances.

Even as far back as Ronald Reagan’s first run for the White House, potential candidates have been known to set up campaign vehicles years before an election. “Reagan had a PAC paying for his travels to get his name out long before he ran for president,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen.

But “it has become the norm these days,” he added.

Biden, in fact, has already done a bit of traveling, appearing at party fundraisers in states like New Hampshire that have early presidential primaries.

Biden wouldn’t be the only candidate prepping for 2020: Trump already registered for his re-election run and raised $7.1 million in the first three months of 2017, about half of which came from his joint fundraising committees, accounts that split the booty between the Republican party and other candidates. In total, his two major JFCs, Trump Victory and Trump Make America Great Again committee, about raised $10.5 million, $3.5 million of which was transferred to Trump.

Holman noted that Biden didn’t set up a super PAC, like former Gov. Jeb Bush did in 2015, soliciting large donations before he officially announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination. Bush was criticized by many for doing that to circumvent coordination rules that prevent super PACs, which can raise unlimited amounts from individuals and corporations, from working directly with candidates.

Biden could still do that, of course, but given his critiques of big money in politics, he’d be called out immediately for hypocrisy.

If this is a precursor to a Biden candidacy, it would be his third time he’s tossed his hat in the ring; he also ran in 2008 and 1988. (He also mulled a run in 2016, but chose not to seek the Democratic nomination in part because of the recent death of his son.) Biden dropped out early in 2007 after low support in Iowa and meager fundraising compared to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, raising about $13.2 million. (His top donors included Young, Conaway et al with $55,000, the offices of trial lawyer Peter G Angelos at $55,000 and Simmons Cooper LLC with $53,000.)

Biden was also in the Senate from 1973 to 2009, when he left to become vice president. The Delaware lawmaker raised $29.1 million from 1989 to the end of his term, which is as far back as our data go. His top contributors over that span included employees from bank holding company MBNA Corp ($208,000), law firm Pachulski, Stang Ziehl & Jones ($206,000) and the Simmons Law Firm ($188,000). Lawyers and law firms led the way (as illustrated by his top donors) at $6.6 million, followed by real estate interests at $1.4 million and securities and investment, or Wall Street at $1.1 million.

Of the potential 2020 candidates, we also know a bit more about Biden than Trump, since Biden has released his tax returns from 1998 to 2015. Biden and his wife, Jill, reported $392,000 in adjusted gross income in 2015 and paid $92,000 in federal taxes, an effective tax rate of 23 percent. The couple gave $6,600 to charity.

Never among the wealthiest politicians (and quick to invoke his working class roots) Biden’s 2015 personal financial disclosure shows the couple is worth anywhere from $300,000 to $1.1 million.