Rogue donors not ready for Hillary?
The worst nightmare for Democrats would be replicating the 2012 GOP primary.
By KENNETH P. VOGEL | 10/6/14
Hillary Clinton is facing the beginnings of a backlash from rich liberals unhappy with her positions on litmus test issues and her team’s efforts to lock up the Democratic presidential nomination before the contest starts.
Elizabeth Warren says she’s not running, but donors are pledging big money to get her to reconsider. Joe Biden, Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb have found polite and occasionally receptive audiences among potential sugar daddies. Even Bernie Sanders has support from some wealthy donors.
Clinton is seen by some liberals as too hawkish, too close to Wall Street and insufficiently aggressive on fighting climate change, income inequality and the role of money in politics. Those are animating causes for many rich Democrats, and some are eager for a candidate or candidates to challenge Clinton on those issues, if only to force her to the left.
“I have talked to large donors who are not happy with what Hillary represents,” said Guy Saperstein, a San Francisco lawyer and part owner of the Oakland A’s. “But they’re not going to stick their heads up above the ramparts right now and get shot at.”
Saperstein provided seed funding to a super PAC launched this summer to try to draft Warren into the presidential race and pledged $1 million if the Massachusetts senator decides to run. The super PAC is hiring staffers in key primary states and recently enlisted a fundraising firm to solicit donors.
It’s just one example of the big-money Democratic presidential jockeying taking place almost entirely behind the scenes. The results will go a long way toward determining whether the party will maintain unity in 2016 or tumble headlong into the sort of costly super PAC-funded internecine skirmishes that have confounded Republicans.
The worst nightmare for Democrats would be replicating the 2012 GOP presidential primary. It was thrown into chaos by a pair of super-rich activists — Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess — who each poured millions of dollars into super PACs that propped up the long-shot campaigns of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, respectively. The cash helped both candidates remain in the race for months longer than they likely would have been able to do otherwise, inflicting serious damage on the front-runner and eventual nominee, Mitt Romney.
With over two decades’ worth of carefully cultivated connections to the Democratic Party’s deepest pockets, Hillary Clinton is in some ways the ideal candidate for the mega-check brand of politics that has come to dominate American elections.
Yet the former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state is also uniquely exposed in the new landscape, where rogue billionaires can use their checkbooks to buck or shape the party line if they’re unhappy with its candidates or positions.
Like Romney in 2012, Clinton is the early consensus choice for her party’s presidential nomination among elites who believe she gives them their best chance to win a general election. And, as she has inched closer to entering the race, her backers have worked to avoid Romney’s fate by trying to neutralize potential Adelsons and Friesses on their side and convince them there are no viable alternatives.
Using a network of big-money groups laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign, including the super PAC Ready for Hillary — which has raised more than $10 million since January 2013 (including at least $1.7 million over the past three months) — Clinton’s allies have collected contributions and pledges of support from an impressive roster of the party’s most generous donors, including Houston trial lawyers Steve and Amber Mostyn, billionaire financier George Soros and medical device heir Jon Stryker.
“I think it’s un-American,” declared Ben Cohen, the co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and a significant donor to progressive candidates and groups — particularly those working to diminish the role of unlimited cash in politics. “The big problem with politics is big money in politics. … I’m talking about the undue influence of corporations and the wealthy. We’ve got them controlling the general elections, we’ve got them controlling the primaries, and now we’re talking about them controlling the pre-primaries.”
Clinton’s backers are assiduously courting top cause-oriented liberal donors like San Francisco hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer. He has pledged to spend more than $50 million in the 2014 midterms supporting Democrats with aggressive stances on environmental issues, including fighting climate change.
Yet Steyer — who supported Clinton in 2008 and in July had her over to his San Francisco home for an informal get-to-together — thus far has resisted Ready for Hillary’s entreaties to formally commit to her in 2016. Sources say Steyer raised eyebrows in Hillaryland last month when, on the sidelines of a climate change awareness march in New York City, he told MSNBC that she could benefit from a primary challenge.
“Being forced to refine what you say and think is a good thing,” said Steyer.
Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who’s flirting with a run for the nomination, met recently with major donors in New York, and some came away thinking that he could convincingly run as an economic populist to Clinton’s left.
“Donors on the left — progressives — don’t think she’s divorced herself from Wall Street, and they’re bothered that she never cut the cord with people like Larry Summers and Laura Tyson,” said one New York donor who met with Webb. There are a number of major liberal donors who would support a Webb campaign, but are fearful of vocally opposing Clinton before the campaign even starts, asserted the donor.
“A lot of people give money to be recognized and when the Clintons turn against you, you’re dead to them and that hurts these people,” said the donor. “Do I want her to be the president over any Republican? Sure. But a lot of donors are actually thrilled that Bernie could go, and that Webb and O’Malley are probably going to go, because they are going to force her to answer questions.”
O’Malley, the outgoing governor of Maryland, has been methodically laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign for more than a year. But in meetings with major donors, he’s been reluctant to contrast himself with Clinton, and has even been offering himself as a fallback choice, according to multiple sources familiar with his pitch.
“He’s saying ‘I don’t know if she’s going to run, but, if she doesn’t, I would like to be your second choice,’” said one fundraiser.
Another fundraiser said O’Malley is in a tough spot. “The fact that he’s telling people that he wants to be their second choice really undercuts him, but he has to, because 80 to 90 percent of his donors are the Clintons’ donors.”
O’Malley recently has focused at least partly on major donors who bucked Clinton in 2008 by siding with Barack Obama in the Democratic primary, and, as such, are seen by some in Democratic finance circles as potential 2016 wildcards.
Among those with whom O’Malley has recently met: San Francisco real estate developer Wayne Jordan and his wife Quinn Delaney, venture capitalist Ryan Smith of Salt Lake City, and Wall Street titan Robert Wolf.http://www.politico.com/story/2014/10/hillary-clinton-donors-2016-elections-111622.html#ixzz3FONTiJH8