Elizabeth Warren is making a promise that could help Trump win the 2020 election
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren has sworn not to do large private fundraisers if she becomes the Democratic nominee for president.
- This move is a big mistake because President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee already have a large head start on raising money.
- Warren, or any Democratic candidate, should be principled but pragmatic when it comes to fundraising choices.
- If Warren doesn't reverse course, it could hand the 2020 election to Trump.
- Rufus Gifford is the former Ambassador to Denmark and was part of the Senior Leadership of President Obama's Presidential Campaigns.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
This past week I was angered and concerned when I saw a headline declaring that Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren promised to "not do big-money fundraising events if she's the Democratic nominee."In a tweet, I responded that the idea was "colossally stupid" and could make the Democratic Party go "bankrupt" (While a tad dramatic, I stand by everything I said). Advertisement
The campaign has since clarified their position suggesting that certain non-campaign events may be on the table. But as the former finance director of the DNC and former President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, I am still concerned. To me it's a political strategy that may make it easier to win the primary, but harder for the ultimate goal we care most about: winning in November 2020.
If the eventual Democratic nominee turns his or her back on traditional sources of fundraising it will not only increase the chances of Donald Trump winning but could be a gift to Republicans everywhere.If the eventual Democratic nominee turned his or her back on traditional sources of fundraising, it would not only increase the chances of President Donald Trump winning but it could also be a gift to Republicans everywhere.
Do not underestimate Trump's fundraising
Let me be clear: I am terrified of Trump being reelected and will do everything in my power to ensure the Democratic nominee is taking the oath of office on January 20, 2021.I am also unaligned in the primary. I have contributed money to multiple candidates and attended the kick off rallies of both Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden. That being said, Warren's statements - and the possibility that other candidates could follow - are worrisome.Advertisement
In 2016, everyone underestimated Trump. And I am terrified that Democrats are beginning to underestimate him again. The Democratic nominee must fundamentally understand Trump's advantages and be prepared to do everything he or she can to win.
Reading the headline announcing Warren's decision was the first time in this race that I felt a top candidate was not prepared to do that. To me, the decision to put a limit on which kind of fundraisers a candidate should attend is a misguided test of purity that could disadvantage Democrats in the general election, especially given Trump's built-in advantages as an incumbent.
The 2012 Obama campaign is a model for successTo illustrate the issues with Warren's pronouncement, let's run down some important things to know about campaign finance:Advertisement
- It is illegal for federal candidates or committees to receive corporate contributions. So not a penny of money I have ever raised in politics (for Obama or anyone else) has come from a corporation.
- I am fully supportive of certain self-imposed restrictions. Obama started the trend of not taking PAC or lobbyist money, and I do not believe that special-interest money has any place in politics.
- I think campaigns have a responsibility to be transparent. Any time a candidate is giving remarks, it should be accessible to the press, and the campaign must release the names of campaign fundraisers. All of which the Obama operation did.
Adding additional restrictions - such as which kind of events to take part in and forgoing large personal donations - would be a mistake.
Running a large finance operation with diversified events and no corporate influence can be done; just look at 2012.When I took the job as the Obama reelection campaign's finance director in 2011, campaign manager Jim Messina told me I was going to be responsible for raising $1 billion for the campaign, the Democratic National Committee, and the state Democratic parties.Advertisement
We knew we had a year head start on the Republicans. We knew that as the GOP candidates were courting voters at the Iowa State Fair, we could fund and build the state parties in Florida and Ohio, states we needed to win and had seen our support slip from since 2008.
But we also knew that this was the first post-Citizens United election, and that the GOP nominee and his super PAC would be exceptionally well-funded and likely match us dollar for dollar.After no days off and very little sleep for 18 months, we raised over $1 billion. And we did it without a dime of lobbyist money or PAC money.Advertisement
But taking part in major fundraisers allowed us to compete with Mitt Romney - who nearly matched our fundraising haul with the help of super PACs - and to build finance operations in places where the GOP unexpectedly tried to compete.
Trump has the advantage in 2020Much like our campaign in 2012, Trump has a head start in building a machine for 2020 - one that's organized, strategic, and exceptionally well-funded. Trump and the Republican National Committee are raising record amounts of money, outpacing what we did in 2011. They're also building up the state parties in the places Trump needs to win at the same time Democrats are fighting it out amongst themselves in Iowa and New Hampshire.Advertisement
That's why Warren's announcement is worrying. Once you are the presumptive Democratic nominee, you own the DNC, you own the state parties, and it is incumbent on you as a nominee and your campaign to actively raise money for those organizations in as many ways as you can.
This means a robust operation that includes the candidate, the candidate's spouse and family members, and celebrities and anyone else able to act as a surrogate for the candidate.Money can be a corrupting influence in politics. The Citizens United ruling was a great threat to democracy, and we need to strongly advocate for additional campaign-finance reform. But Trump is far more corrupting and a far greater threat than anything else.Advertisement
Any campaign that does not openly acknowledge that while taking a pledge to forgo traditional fundraising is making an enormous mistake and risks handing the White House to Trump for four more years.
The Democratic candidate will be broke at the end of the primary, with Trump sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank. So any Democratic candidate must be willing to do everything she or he can to fund the campaign and the party.That will mean a trip or two to New York and Los Angeles. To not do that is too great a risk. Advertisement
We must not bring a knife to a gunfight.
We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.And we simply must not wake up on November 4, 2020, and say we didn't do absolutely everything we could.Advertisement
Rufus Gifford is a former US ambassador, the finance director for President Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign, and a former candidate for US Congress in Massachusetts' 3rd District.This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).
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