Joe Biden is racing to win early support from Democratic donors for his re-election bid, hoping to beat the $1bn haul he landed in 2020 ahead of what some pundits predict will be the most expensive presidential race in US history.
Biden’s announcement this week that he intends to run for a second term in 2024 allowed his campaign team to start fundraising in earnest. Within hours of his declaration, they set about putting the finishing touches to a two-day event in Washington starting on Friday that will bring together Wall Street financiers and other deep-pocketed backers, said people familiar with the matter.
The list of attendees at the event, where Biden and his wife Jill are expected to appear, includes many of those who helped fund his last campaign, the people said, including Blackstone’s Jon Gray, Evercore’s Roger Altman and Centerview’s Blair Effron.
But his advisers are trying to expand the donor base to include backers who did not give money last time around, the people added. Biden’s team had been expecting 60 large donors to attend the event but as of now more than double that number are expected to turn up, said two people briefed on the guest list.
In interviews with a dozen donors, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, potential Biden backers predicted he would have a commanding fundraising advantage as an incumbent who does not yet face a serious Democratic challenger. Many donors are particularly energised by a determination to prevent Donald Trump from returning to the White House.
Yet several warned that Biden would have to overcome much of the same scepticism that his candidacy generates among voters more generally, including concerns over his age and lacklustre approval ratings. Others raised concerns over what they see as his brand of populist economics and regular criticism of corporate America.
“The need for money will be profound,” said Bruce Heyman, a former US ambassador to Canada and former Goldman Sachs banker who helped boost turnout among voters abroad for Biden in 2020. “Not only do I believe in Joe Biden — I think we’re in a crisis moment with regard to the threat to democracy as we know it.”
Mohsin Meghji, head of the restructuring advisory firm M3 Partners, said: “If it’s Trump versus Biden, which is what it looks like right now, I’m definitely going with Biden.” Yet like others he noted “there’s definitely an enthusiasm gap” for the president and his running mate Kamala Harris, arguing the pair “could do a lot more on getting people excited”.
“I’ve been a Biden supporter all along and I want to make sure that they are standing up for business,” Meghji added.
According to one person attending the event on Friday — a “bundler” tasked with hoovering up cash from other backers — the Biden campaign needs to do a better job of communicating with donors.
They complained the event had been organised at very short notice by the Democratic National Committee, which provided few details: the initial invite went out by phone last week with no specific time, no exact location, no dress code, and no promise of dinner or drinks with Biden.
The person said they had planned to bring their wife, who had been asking: “Is it cocktail? Is it business? What shoes do I have to wear?”
Many people who had been invited were unable to go because of the late notice, the bundler said, adding: “If there was big enthusiasm, even if they had a conflict, people would find a way to go.
“I think he’s a fantastic president. As an American, I’m enthusiastic about him. As a donor, less so.”
One longtime donor to Harris was more upbeat, saying “Biden has been good for the economy” while “the fear of him moving left hasn’t happened”.
He said attendees expected to hear from Biden and the first lady on Friday while Saturday’s session would be broken into smaller groups by based on donors’ locations. Anita Dunn and Steve Ricchetti, two top White House aides to Biden, held a call with backers shortly after Tuesday’s announcement, several of them said.
In 2020, which was the most costly presidential contest on record, Biden’s campaign raised $1.04bn — while Trump’s raked in $774mn, according to OpenSecrets, a campaign finance data site. The proliferation of dark money groups known as political action committees, which cannot co-ordinate directly with campaigns but have few limits on fundraising and spending, meant the amount spent was in fact magnitudes higher.
Heyman suggested the 2024 campaign would be “even more expensive” because the last election took place during the pandemic and so did not need as much “engagement in the field”, while Democrats would also need to spend more to counter a Republican push to restrict voting rights.
Biden’s fundraising push comes at a time of huge uncertainty among large Republican donors over where to place their 2024 bets. Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who was long see as more palatable than Trump among Republicans on Wall Street and in big businesses, has been struggling to mount an effective challenge.
“There’s a big group of Republicans who don’t care about who the president is, other than they don’t want Trump,” said a top Wall Street dealmaker. “My Republican friends were very high on DeSantis winning but now they’re just resigned to the idea he’s not going to win.”
But if DeSantis, who has not even formally launched his campaign yet, does emerge as a more effective contender, it would not only be a problem for Trump but could also adversely affect Biden, some donors said.
“It’s too early to write DeSantis off,” said one Biden backer at a large private equity group. “Remember that in the last race, people thought Biden was dead and then he had a massive comeback. That could happen with De Santis. The money would follow. And that . . . will hurt Biden’s fundraising.”
By James Politi, Courtney Weaver and Lauren Fedor in Washington and James Fontanella-Khan, Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson and Sujeet Indap in New York