Major Democratic Donors Devise Plans to Pressure Biden to Step Aside

Vice President Kamala Harris arrives on stage during a health care event in March in Raleigh, N.C. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

After several days of quiet griping and hoping that President Joe Biden would abandon his reelection campaign on his own, many wealthy Democratic donors are trying to take matters into their own hands.

Wielding their fortunes as both carrot and stick, donors have undertaken a number of initiatives to pressure Biden to step down from the top of the ticket and help lay the groundwork for an alternate candidate.


The efforts — some coordinated, some conflicting and others still nascent — expose a remarkable and growing rift between the party’s contributor class and its standard-bearer that could have an impact on downballot races, whether or not the donors influence Biden’s decision.

The president on Wednesday reaffirmed his commitment to stay in the race amid criticism of his weak debate performance last week. But that has not placated donors or strategists who worry that he cannot win in November.

A group of them is working to raise as much as $100 million for a sort of escrow fund, called the Next Generation PAC, that would be used to support a replacement candidate. If Biden does not step aside, the money could be used to help downballot candidates, according to people close to the effort.

Supporters of potential replacements like Vice President Kamala Harris are jockeying to position their preferred successor. Other donors are threatening to withhold contributions not only from Biden but also from other Democratic groups unless Biden bows out.

There is a separate movement to steer money to candidates for lower offices. And financial supporters are urging elected officials at all levels to publicly pressure Biden to withdraw, signaling support for those who follow through. Some major donors like Reed Hastings have gone public with calls for Biden to stand down.

Gideon Stein, a donor and operative with deep connections in Democratic politics, said his family was withholding $3.5 million in planned donations to nonprofits and political organizations active in the presidential race unless Biden stepped aside. He said that virtually every major donor he had spoken with believed that “a new ticket is in the best interest of defeating Donald Trump.”

Abigail E. Disney, a filmmaker who is an heir to the Disney fortune, said in an email exchange that Biden’s campaign and committees supporting it — including the Democratic National Committee, super political action committees and nonprofit groups — “will not receive another dime from me until they bite the bullet and replace Biden at the top of the ticket.”

Disney, who has been a major Democratic donor, added, “Biden is a good man who has served his country well, but the stakes are far too high to allow timidity to determine our course of action.”

Damon Lindelof, a Hollywood producer who has donated more than $115,000 to Democrats this election cycle and who attended Biden’s fundraiser in Hollywood last month, published an essay in Deadline urging what he called a “DEMbargo” of Biden and other Democratic candidates until or unless Biden stands down. Lindelof said in a text message exchange, “No one is eager to donate to anyone until the proverbial dust settles.”

The financial pressure campaign comes as Biden and his team have sought to reassure Democratic donors and officials that he is up to the task, privately telling key allies that he knows the coming days are crucial and acknowledging that he may not be able to salvage his candidacy.

If Biden forges ahead, it could set up a dramatic impasse with a major donor base at the moment it is most needed: when the race enters its heavy-spending homestretch. While Biden narrowly outraised Donald Trump last month, it is not clear if he erased the financial advantage that Trump and his party held over Biden and his party at the beginning of June.

A surge in donations to Biden’s campaign after the debate was powered mostly by online donations, which tend to come from smaller donors, though he also attended a handful of preplanned fundraising receptions with major donors.

And not all big donors are jumping ship. Some of the ticket’s wealthy backers, even those who want a different candidate, said they were still writing checks, if begrudgingly.

Still, some Democrats are concerned about the rate of big-money fundraising. No fundraisers feature Biden until a Denver event at the end of the month, according to a recent list of events distributed to major Biden donors, although more may be added.

But many big donors are seeking a way to move on and build a financial infrastructure for a post-Biden campaign.

“This is something unique,” said James Carville, the longtime Democratic strategist. He added that he had encouraged donors to refuse fundraising calls from Democratic campaign groups and that the unfolding situation differed from donor revolts in past campaigns, when contributors would complain but, “for the most part, you sit down, and you listen, and you take notes, and then you just tell them, ‘Yes,’ and then do nothing, and everything is fine.”

Many anxious Biden megadonors are staying quiet publicly, skittish about being seen as being involved in a big-money coup. Instead, several said in interviews that they were shifting their giving to buffer candidates for Congress and state offices from damage that could result from concerns about the top of the ticket.

“You have to keep funding the machine,” said Andrew E. Beck III, a retired finance executive who has donated more than $100,000 to Biden’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Beck, who goes by Trey, signed a statement released Wednesday by a coalition of business executives urging Biden to stand down and also has worked privately to persuade Democratic elected officials to publicly call for that result.

But of all the efforts by wealthy Democrats, perhaps none is as ambitious as the Next Generation PAC, which plans to create a holding account to support a successor to Biden atop the Democratic ticket. Multiple proposals to set aside some money for a Democratic candidate not named Joe Biden have gained steam among leaders on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, according to four people familiar with the conversations.

The new PAC effort is spearheaded by Mike Novogratz, the cryptocurrency billionaire who backed Dean Phillips in the Democratic primary; his aides; and Hollywood filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, according to three people briefed on the plan, with likely support from the Movement Voter Project. Next Generation PAC, which had not filed federal paperwork as of Thursday afternoon, has told donors it is seeking to raise between $50 million and $100 million but is not planning to officially start until some money is in.

This anybody-but-Biden group intends to hold on to the money until either Biden steps down as the nominee or the Democratic National Convention concludes, according to materials distributed to donors and reviewed by The New York Times. If Biden were to leave, the PAC would spend money on ads for the new nominee and against Trump. If Biden remains the nominee, the group says, it will spend the cash by helping other Democrats.

People connected to the Biden team have caught wind of this stealth project and tried to talk some involved out of joining it, according to one of the people. The donors and strategists did not return requests for comment.

Some of these efforts could end up benefiting Harris, who has faced skepticism from some major donors but whose allies are now privately consolidating some support from ultrarich donors and their big-money operatives, according to interviews and internal memos.

People close to Harris have reached out to influential business leaders to assess how she could go about building her donor base, according to two people familiar with the outreach.

If Biden were to step aside and be replaced by Harris, she could inherit the campaign’s money, which stood at $212 million at the beginning of last month. If another candidate were to become the nominee, the process could become more complicated, potentially requiring the funds to be transferred to the DNC or an independent group.

Some Democratic megadonors have told the Biden campaign directly that they are in favor of a candidate swap, according to one fundraiser who has relayed that message. Others have asked where their money would go if he were to step down.

“We are fully planning for President Biden to be the nominee, but the majority of the money raised through the Biden Victory Fund goes to the DNC, which supports all Democrats on the ballot,” one midlevel campaign staff member told a group of donors, according to a person who shared the written message.

A few Harris supporters are nevertheless ready to speak out publicly.

“We are primed and ready to support a Harris ticket,” said Jon Henes, who led the national finance committee of Harris’ 2020 campaign. Henes said he supported Biden but that if the president opted not to run, “there is no question that she’s ready to be president.”

Raymond J. McGuire, the president of the financial firm Lazard, called Harris “singularly capable of bringing this nation together by crossing every divide.”

“Her candidacy is compelling,” he said. As of now, it does not exist.

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