Warren Won’t Do Big Money Fundraisers In General Election

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate had previously said she would skip them only for the primary.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren hasn’t held any big-money fundraisers during her presidential bid. And she doesn’t plan to.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren hasn’t held any big-money fundraisers during her presidential bid. And she doesn’t plan to.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of the leading candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said in an interview posted Tuesday she will not hold big-money fundraisers at any point during her presidential run.

Warren had previously said her plan to bypass the standard grip-and-grin fundraisers with expensive tickets only applied to the primary. But in an interview with CBS News, Warren said she wouldn’t do high-dollar fundraisers during the general election if she wins the party’s nomination.

“I will not be forced to make changes in how I raise money,” Warren told CBS News. “Look, for me this is pretty straightforward. Either you think ... electing a president is all about going behind closed doors with bazillionaires and corporate executives and lobbyists and scooping up as much money as possible. Or you think it’s about a grassroots let’s-build-this-from-the-ground-up.”

Warren’s comments, first highlighted by The New York Times, represent a shift. “My presidential primary campaign will be run on the principle of equal access for anybody who joins it,” she wrote in a February Medium post announcing her decision not to hold fundraisers during her primary campaign.

“I do not believe in unilateral disarmament,” she told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes at the time.

The decision to extend that policy to the general election could put her at a financial disadvantage when running against President Donald Trump, whose campaign and the Republican National Committee raised $125 million during the third quarter of 2019.

But she said Trump’s big cash hauls would not deter her.

“Yeah, I’m not going to do the big-dollar fundraisers. I’m just not going to do it,” Warren told CBS. “The whole notion behind this campaign is that we can build this together. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

In a statement, Warren’s communications director, Kristen Orthman, said that the candidate would continue to attend fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee, state and local parties, and other Democratic candidates, and that those fundraisers would be open to the press. She also said that Warren — like almost every other Democratic candidate for president — would continue to turn down donations from federal lobbyists and political action committees. 

“No special access or call time with rich donors or big dollar fundraisers to underwrite our campaign. Our campaign is and will continue to be a grassroots campaign ― funded by working people chipping in a few bucks here and there,” Orthman wrote. “As we have said from the beginning and has been our practice throughout the primary, Elizabeth will also continue to do everything she can to build our party infrastructure and strengthen Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.”

Orthman also promised “a more comprehensive campaign finance plan in the coming weeks to permanently break the stranglehold that the money-for-influence racket has on our politics.”

Warren’s campaign, which raised nearly $25 million in the third quarter, has relied so far on online donations. She and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have been able to out-raise the majority of the other contenders for the Democratic nomination while relying almost exclusively on online fundraising. 

But raising money for the general election is a different exercise. While Warren’s rivals for the nomination are limited to $2,800 donations in the primary, recent court rulings have turned presidential fundraising for the general election into a much more expensive game, where fundraiser attendees can give a combined total more than $300,000 to the presidential campaigns, national party committees and various state parties. Warren’s pledge means that she could still attend fundraisers that raise large sums for the Democratic National Committee and state parties, but she would not be able to give special access to high-dollar donors at those events. 

Rufus Gifford, who served as finance director on then-President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, said Warren’s decision meant “the Democratic Party just went bankrupt.” 

“A Presidential nominee is not just responsible for fundraising for his/her campaign,” he wrote on Twitter. “They are the de-facto head of ... the Democratic Party and for all 50 State Parties. The Democratic Party cannot raise the money they need without the candidate doing every [thing] he/she can.”

End Citizens United, a Democratic group named after the infamous Supreme Court decision and dedicated to limiting the influence of money in politics, praised Warren’s decision.

“Elizabeth Warren has been unafraid to take on our rigged political system in her campaign and put forward bold ideas to take on the corporate special interests and Big Money donors that dominate our politics,” said Tiffany Mueller, the group’s president. “Her commitment to small-dollar fundraising sends a powerful message to the American people about who she will fight for as President.”

Warren, along with Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, is in the top tier of candidates competing for the Democratic nomination. Sanders has bypassed high-dollar fundraisers throughout his career, though he has held a few events open to both large- and small-dollar donors during his current presidential bid. Biden has raised much of his campaign war chest through traditional high-dollar fundraisers.

Some Biden allies, most notably former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, have attacked Warren for attending high-dollar fundraisers in the past. 

The Warren campaign has pointed out that her decision to skip fundraising events has freed up the candidate to spend more time with rank-and-file voters, including her now-famous selfie lines. 

The head of Priorities USA, the Democratic Party’s largest super PAC ― which can collect and spend unlimited amounts of money, provided it does not coordinate directly with a candidate’s campaign ― said that Warren’s announcement would not impact its plans. Both Obama’s reelection campaign and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign helped the group raise money with high-dollar fundraisers. 

“Full speed ahead for Priorities USA,” Guy Cecil, the group’s chairman and chief strategist, wrote on Twitter. “We’re already up & running ads holding Trump accountable in key states & will be through November next year,” he added.

The story has been updated with comments from End Citizens United and Priorities USA.