Hillary Clinton Faces More Liberal Democratic Fundraising Landscape
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE and DEREK WILLIS
New York Times
Hillary Rodham Clinton will seek out donors to her presidential campaign from a Democratic fundraising landscape vastly altered since her first presidential bid and far more ideologically aligned with the party’s liberal activists.
Democrats now get far less money from Wall Street, military contractors, health care companies and other industries that for decades ladled out cash more evenly to both parties, according to a New York Times analysis of data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group. And the party now relies far more on constituencies that have achieved new clout in the era of super PACs and carefully targeted digital fundraising.
As many as one-fifth of elite Democratic “bundlers” — volunteers who raise money from friends and business associates — are active in gay-rights causes or are themselves gay or lesbian. Outside Democratic groups rely heavily on wealthy environmentalists, such as billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael R. Bloomberg, and on labor unions, whose financial might has been magnified by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 even as their membership rolls decline.
Female donors and bundlers have become both a bigger source of funding and a more organized financial force in party affairs: Emily’s List, a political group dedicated to electing female Democrats, now has five times as many members and twice as many donors as it did when Clinton ran for president in 2008.
And Democrats now rely far more on grass-roots donors to be financially competitive with Republicans. Democratic party committees raised $200 million from donors giving $200 or less in 2014, according to Federal Election Commission records, twice as much as in 2008.
The shift in the party’s donor base is being driven, in part, by the same polarizing demographic and political trends that have made the Democratic Party more ideologically liberal and have aligned business more closely with Republicans.
“Historically, business was very pragmatic and played both sides,” said Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democratic Network, a left-leaning think tank with ties to business leaders in Washington. “Now, business had thrown its lot in with the Republicans. It means that the traditional arguments of business are losing their grip on Democrats, in part because business isn’t any longer investing in Democrats.”
The transformation is already reflected in Clinton’s campaign and speeches. She sided with House Democrats and labor unions this month during the intraparty battle over a new Pacific trade deal, risking a significant rupture with her former boss, President Barack Obama. And she criticized “hedge fund managers” in her campaign kickoff event in New York City, the sort of rhetorical flourish she carefully avoided in the past.
Her stump speech sharply attacks Republicans on issues that, Democratic strategists have learned, can loosen floods of money from grass-roots donors, such as reproductive rights, gay rights and equal pay for women.
“She was always talking about these issues, but not with the same rhetoric,” said Howard Dean, the former Democratic Party chairman and governor of Vermont. “And that’s because her base has moved left and the country has moved the left. I think she can be more of who she is.”
Industries that wooed Democrats with a significant share of their political donations have steadily shifted more of their giving to Republicans, reflecting not only the country’s broader polarization but also years of bruising battles with the Obama administration and Democrats over issues like financial regulation, the Keystone XL oil pipeline and nutrition guidelines.
Agribusiness and mining and oil interests, along with the financial services and health care industries, have shifted substantially more money to Republicans over the last three two-year election cycles, according to the Times analysis.
That shift was exacerbated, some longtime Democratic fundraisers said, by Obama’s decision not to accept contributions to his presidential campaigns from political action committees. While PACs account for a relatively small slice of money in presidential campaigns, their fundraising historically acted as a bridge between Democratic politicians or lobbyists and businesses that were more Republican in outlook.
“The fundraising world in 2015 has changed dramatically from the fundraising world in 2012 — which was a dramatic change from 2008,” said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., the former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which now raises half its cash from small donors online. “It’s new rules, it’s new tools, it’s new technologies, and it’s new donors.”
At the same time, older constituencies have become bigger players in Democratic fundraising. More grass-roots fundraising and bundling by groups like Emily’s List, for example, have created a financial constituency for issues such as equal pay.
“We’re not the full funders of any candidate,” said Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily’s List and a close ally of Clinton’s. “But we’re the extra bit that allows them more time to do what they need to do and the ability to speak on behalf of all women and families.”
Stung by the defeat of Obama’s climate-change legislation in 2009, environmental groups have set up new bundler networks to raise “green-branded” dollars for candidates. They have also emerged as big spenders on election-themed political advertising. In 2014, the League of Conservation Voters and Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action, a super PAC, spent more on independent election advertising than any other Democratic-aligned issue groups.
Climate change is also a top issue among the party’s deep-pocketed super PAC donors, particularly Steyer. This month, Steyer issued a statement pointedly praising one of Clinton’s Democratic rivals, Martin O’Malley, for “presenting real, concrete solutions to climate change.”
For Clinton, the party’s shifting financial fortunes may be a double-edged sword. They could liberate her to more forcefully or directly address issues that are important to the party’s base, especially on issues of wealth inequality, taxation and regulation.
“What it does allow — and I think this is a particularly good thing in this year, when the biggest issue is fairness for working people — it does allow people to vote their consciences more easily,” Dean said.
He added: “There’s no particular reason why Democrats even have to think about people on Wall Street. And they won’t.”
But Clinton’s campaign is particularly sensitive to criticisms that she is moving left or tailoring her message to the party’s liberal base. (A spokesman declined to comment for this story.) And there are also signs that Clinton, whose husband became a successful fundraiser two decades ago by rebranding the Democrats as business-friendly, will seek more of an equilibrium.
Unlike Obama, her campaign is aggressively raising money from business PACs, according to two Clinton fundraisers. And Clinton, like the Republicans who wish to run against her, has not yet pledged to voluntarily disclose the names of her bundlers.
Clinton’s most delicate dance may be with Wall Street. Investment banks like Goldman Sachs have for years been a source of personal, political and philanthropic wealth for the Clinton family. But in Washington, the industry is now closely allied with House Speaker John A. Boehner and congressional Republicans seeking to roll back or repeal elements of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms.
Almost two-thirds of money from investment banks and three-quarters of donations from credit card companies and lenders now flow to Republicans, and donations from hedge fund and private equity executives were a significant source of cash for Republican super PACs during the 2012 election cycle.
Clinton backed the Dodd-Frank bill and other financial reforms, including elimination of the “carried interest” loophole used by private equity executives to lower their tax rate. But several Democratic donors and bundlers with Wall Street ties said they believed Clinton would nevertheless be well positioned to repair that relationship; many financial executives, they said, viewed her more barbed language in recent weeks as necessary posturing.
“The Clinton operation would like to have everybody in, and everybody giving,” said one longtime Clinton fundraiser, who asked for anonymity so as not to damage his relationship with Clinton’s team. “They usually try to find a way to have everyone on board.”