Major Democratic donors hatch plans to pressure Biden to resign

After days of silent complaining and hoping that President Biden would abandon his re-election campaign on his own, many wealthy Democratic donors are trying to take matters into their own hands.

Using their fortunes as a carrot and stick, donors have launched a number of initiatives to pressure Biden to step down as the top candidate and help lay the groundwork for an alternative candidate.

The efforts — some coordinated, some conflicting, and some still in their infancy — expose a remarkable and growing divide between the party’s donor class and its standard-bearers, one that could shape lower-level elections regardless of whether the donors have any influence over Biden’s decision.

The president reaffirmed his commitment to staying in the race on Wednesday, despite criticism over his lackluster debate performance last week. But that hasn’t reassured donors or strategists who worry he can’t win in November.

A group of them is trying to raise $100 million for a kind of escrow fund, called the Next Generation PAC, that would be used to support a replacement candidate. If Mr. Biden doesn’t step aside, the money could be used to help candidates in lower-level positions, according to people close to the effort.

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

There’s a separate movement to funnel money to candidates for lower-level office. And financial supporters are pushing elected officials at all levels to publicly pressure Biden to withdraw, signaling support for those who do. Some big donors, like Reed Hastings, have publicly called for Biden to resign.

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

Damon Lindelof, a Hollywood producer who has donated more than $115,000 to Democrats this election cycle and who attended Biden’s Hollywood fundraiser last month, published an essay in Deadline urging what he called a “DEMbargo” of Biden and other Democratic candidates until Biden leaves office. Lindelof said in a text message exchange: “Nobody is eager to donate to anybody until the proverbial dust has settled.”

If Mr. Biden follows through, he could create a dramatic standoff with a large donor base just when it’s needed most: as the race nears its big-spending conclusion. Although Mr. Biden narrowly outraised Donald J. Trump last month, it’s not clear whether he has erased the financial advantage that Mr. Trump and his party had over Mr. Biden and his party in early June.

Biden’s post-debate surge in donations to the campaign was driven largely by online donations, which tend to come from smaller donors. However, he also attended a handful of pre-planned fundraising receptions with larger donors.

And not all major donors are switching. Some of the ticket’s wealthy backers, even those who favor another candidate, said they were still writing checks, albeit reluctantly. Still, some Democrats are concerned about the pace of big-money fundraising. There are no fundraisers featuring Mr. Biden until an event in Denver at the end of the month, according to a recent list of events circulated to major Biden donors, though more may be added.

But many major donors are looking for a way to move forward and build a financial infrastructure for the post-Biden campaign.

“This is a unique thing,” said James Carville, the longtime Democratic strategist. He added that he had encouraged donors to reject fundraising appeals from Democratic campaign groups and that the unfolding situation differed from donor revolts in past campaigns, when donors complained, but “for the most part, you sit down and you listen and you take notes and you just say, ‘Yes,’ and you do nothing and everything is fine.”

Many fearful Biden megadonors are keeping quiet in public, wary of being seen as engaged in a big-money coup. Instead, several said in interviews that they were shifting their giving to protect congressional and state candidates from damage that could come 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 signed a statement released Wednesday by a coalition of businessmen calling on Biden to resign and has also worked privately to persuade Democratic elected officials to publicly call for that outcome.

But of all the efforts by wealthy Democrats, none may be as ambitious as the Next Generation PAC, which plans to open a holding account to support a successor to Biden at the top of the Democratic ticket. Several proposals to set aside some money for a Democratic nominee not named Joe Biden have gained traction among leaders on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, according to four people familiar with the discussions.

The new PAC effort is being led 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 with knowledge of the plan, with likely backing from the Movement Voter Project. Next Generation PAC, which had not filed federal documents as of Thursday afternoon, has told donors it is looking to raise between $50 million and $100 million but that it doesn’t plan to officially launch until it has some money in hand.

That group, except Biden, plans to hold the money until Biden steps down as nominee or the Democratic National Convention is over, 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 supporting the new nominee and against Trump. If Biden remains the nominee, the group says, the money would be spent helping other Democrats.

People with ties to the Biden team got wind of the stealth project and tried to dissuade some of those involved from participating, one of the people said. The donors and strategists did not respond to requests for comment.

Some of those efforts could benefit Ms. Harris, who has faced skepticism from some major donors but whose allies are now secretly consolidating some support from ultra-rich donors and their big-capital agents, according to interviews and internal memos.

According to two people familiar with the outreach, people close to Ms. Harris have reached out to influential business leaders to assess how she can expand her donor base.

If Mr. Biden were to step aside and be replaced by Ms. Harris, she would stand to inherit the campaign’s cash, which stood at $212 million as of last month. If another candidate were to be nominated, 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 support a candidate swap, according to a fundraiser who relayed that message. Others have asked where their money would go if he were to step down.

“We fully intend to make President Biden the nominee, but the majority of the money raised through the Biden Victory Fund will go to the DNC, which supports all Democrats on the ballot,” a mid-level campaign official told a group of donors, according to a person who shared the written message.

Still, there are some Harris supporters who are willing to speak out publicly.

“We are ready to support a Harris ticket,” said Jon Henes, who led the national finance committee for Ms. Harris’s 2020 campaign. Mr. Henes said he supported Mr. Biden but that if he chose not to run, “there is no doubt that she is ready to be president.”

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

“Her candidacy is compelling,” he said. Right now, it doesn’t exist.

Kate Kelly contributed to the reporting.

Leave a Comment