Joe Biden’s campaign and top donors are racing to reimagine the ways they raise money as worries grow that the coronavirus could choke off contributions from donors big and small.
By Shane Goldmacher
Joseph R. Biden Jr. is working the phones with top donors while cloistered in his Delaware home. His digital team is searching for the right tone to ask small contributors for cash during the sharpest economic downturn in their lifetimes. And his finance operation is plotting how to keep the checks coming when catered parties for big contributors are on hold — indefinitely.
Top Biden fund-raisers and donors, as well as campaign, super PAC and Democratic Party officials, described urgent efforts to reimagine the ways they raise money during a pandemic and global economic slowdown. And in nearly two dozen interviews, they expressed deepening concern that the downturn could choke off the flow of small online donations as millions of people lose their jobs.
The coronavirus shut down much of the American economy just as the former vice president took control of the Democratic presidential race, upending his plans to consolidate support among party donors who had previously supported other candidates and diminishing his ability to replenish his cash reserves to compete with President Trump’s well-funded re-election campaign.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden face the same headwinds. But the president began March with an enormous financial advantage over the Democrats: a combined roughly $225 million in cash on hand between his re-election campaign, the Republican National Committee and their shared committees. Mr. Biden and the Democratic National Committee had only $20 million, after accounting for debts.
Mr. Biden’s campaign has not said how much money he has raised since mid-March, when the virus began taking its toll on the country, but multiple fund-raisers said that giving was slowing and that they were reluctant to make aggressive requests for cash at this fragile moment, as the campaign itself readies for a 100 percent virtual and digital operation.
These should be some of the busiest and headiest days for Mr. Biden and his fund-raising team in normal times, now that he has knocked out all of his rivals but Senator Bernie Sanders, who trails by a nearly insurmountable 300 delegates. But instead he has found himself holed up in Wilmington, Del., and limited so far to three video fund-raisers from a makeshift studio installed in the retrofitted rec room of his house.
“It is definitely harder to raise money now,” said Mathew Littman, a former Biden speechwriter in California who is organizing a video fund-raiser and recently started a separate super PAC to raise money to support Mr. Biden in Western states. “The fun aspect of the fund-raiser is taken out of it.”
“You have to be very sensitive to what’s going on with people’s lives,” Mr. Littman added. “This is definitely a much softer pitch than it was two weeks ago because the economy is going to be in either recession or a depression for a bit.”
Some top fund-raisers said the notion of thumbing through call lists of friends to raise money for politics during an unprecedented economic and health crisis was tone deaf. Others are simply focused elsewhere right now. They are investors who have seen their portfolios hammered, business owners trying to triage their holdings and take care of their employees, philanthropists with links to cultural institutions at risk of collapse, or even health care systems bracing for the virus’s full impact.
“You don’t fund-raise now,” Ed Rendell, a Democratic former governor of Pennsylvania and a Biden supporter, said in an interview a week ago. “I haven’t called anyone for money in the last 10 days and I don’t intend to. Not while people are confined to their homes. I just don’t think it’s appropriate. Plus, people are worried about money.”
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