A super PAC being formed to provide outside support for former Vice President Joe Biden’s White House campaign could be up and running as early as next week.
But a former Biden aide who is expected to play a major role in the group’s effort, who asked for anonymity to speak more freely, emphasized that the formation of the super PAC is “a sign of reality.”
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Then-senator Biden struggled to raise campaign cash during his unsuccessful 1988 and 2008 runs for the Democratic presidential nomination. But after serving eight years as vice president, Biden’s fundraising woes in his third White House bid come as a bit of a surprise.
Biden had just under $9 million in his campaign coffers as of October 1, after spending more money than he raised during the July-September fundraising quarter. That’s far less than his top rivals Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who reported $25.7 million cash on hand, and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who reported having a whopping $33.7 million in the bank.
Biden raised $15.2 million during the third quarter – far less than the hauls by Sanders and Warren. And he was also topped for a second straight fundraising period by South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
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Sanders and Warren raised much of their money online, using grassroots outreach to bring in small-dollar donations.
“Older voters like Joe’s don’t necessarily play this online small donor game,” the aide tied to the super PAC explained. “And we have to take reality the way we see it, in terms of our donor base, what they’re resources are.”
While many of the top donors who have contributed to Biden have maxed out at this point in the race, the new super PAC gives them another avenue to donate to the former vice president.
A Democratic strategist who worked on Biden’s 2008 campaign and Sanders’s 2016 team said that the former vice president’s decision on Thursday to open the door to super PAC support – reversing an earlier ban on support from outside groups – is anything but a sign of strength for the once unrivaled front-runner in the polls.
“It’s definitely a choice that comes in a moment when his financials aren’t competing with Bernie, Warren and Buttigieg. Giving a wink to outside help may alleviate some of that gap, but it’s done as his opponents are putting up huge grassroots numbers, so it’s hard to say that this doesn’t seem reactionary to that,” noted consultant Julia Barnes, who’s currently not working for any presidential campaign.
Biden is fighting a two-front campaign battle, taking incoming fire from his more progressive rivals running for the nomination while also fielding attacks from President Trump and his Republican allies.
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In explaining the reversal on accepting outside support from super PACs – which under law are allowed to accept unlimited donations but prevented from coordinating or having any contact with the candidates and their campaigns – deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield noted that “we will see more than a billion dollars in spending by Trump and his allies to re-elect this corrupt president. And let’s be clear: Donald Trump has decided that the general election has already begun.”
“In this time of crisis in our politics, it is not surprising that those who are dedicated to defeating Donald Trump are organizing in every way permitted by current law to bring an end to his disastrous presidency,” Bedingfield added. “Nothing changes unless we defeat Donald Trump.”
Democratic consultant and fundraiser Larry Rasky, who worked on Biden’s 1988 and 2008 presidential bids, is one of the ringleaders of the soon to be formed super PAC.
“We intend to fight back against the lies and distortions we’re seeing now from Trump, his allies, the Russians, and the Republican Party,” Rasky said on Thursday.
“While other candidates have groups supporting their efforts, no other Democrat has to fight this two-front war. We know Joe Biden is the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump – and so does Donald Trump. That is why our friend Joe Biden is the target and why we will have his back,” he emphasized.
Big bucks and dark money in politics has become a major issue in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, with most of the candidates swearing off super PACs.
Sanders, campaigning in Iowa on Friday, told reporters “I do not think a super PAC is healthy for American democracy.”
His campaign was less diplomatic, saying a day earlier that “the former Vice President has been unable to generate grassroots support, and now his campaign is endorsing an effort to buy the primary through a super PAC that can rake in unlimited cash from billionaires and corporations.”
And Warren tweeted on Thursday night that it’s “disappointing that any Democratic candidate would reverse course and endorse the use of unlimited contributions from the wealthy to run against fellow Democrats. A handful of wealthy donors should not be allowed to buy the Democratic nomination. That’s not who we are.”
Bedingfield, in explaining the Biden campaign’s reversal on super PACs, spotlighted that as president, Biden will “push to remove private money from our federal elections,” including through a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United to “end the era of unbridled spending by Super PACs.”
For Biden and the other top-tier contenders hoping to face off against Trump in next year’s general election, a huge challenge lays ahead.
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“Each of these candidates is facing a possibly billion-dollar challenge in the general election against an incumbent who has been fundraising for reelection since he took his oath of office. That necessitates real choices about how to compete,” Barnes noted. “I think we will see all the front runners decide how to tackle that possibility through their values and their individual capabilities. For Biden, that’s a more conventional, establishment approach rather than harnessing a massive grassroots movement.”
Biden wasn’t the only White House hopeful making news week regarding outside fundraising support. Democratic presidential candidate and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang made headlines when he said he wouldn’t try to dissuade a new super PAC – called the Math PAC – which has vowed to raise and spend at least $1 million in support of Yang’s campaign.
Yang told Fox News and CBS News “I’m not going to try and dissuade them, because we have the rules that we have. After I’m president, I’m very happy to repeal Citizens United and try and do away with super PACs entirely. But given the rules that we have right now, my goal is to compete and to win and so I’m not going to dissuade private citizens from trying to help.”
Fox News’ Danielle Wallace contributed to this report