🚨 SLUDGE REPORT SPECIAL: Billionaires Are...Actually Good For Democracy? 🚨

This special edition focuses on some interesting developments in the Democratic presidential primary.

🚨 SLUDGE REPORT SPECIAL: Billionaires Are...Actually Good For Democracy? 🚨

Welcome to the preview edition of our weekly, members-only Sludge column to let you know about the sludgiest characters in politics! 

For this week, I’m doing a special edition on recent developments in the Democratic presidential primary race. Things are getting pretty interesting as also-rans drop out, although at an excruciatingly slow pace, and more district groupings of candidates seem to have formed. Warren’s major bump has leveled out, and Sanders has had an encouraging few weeks. Buttigieg keeps trying to steal Biden’s thunder, in some cases successfully, but I’d wager his chances of winning the primary are next to nil, given his very paltry support from voters of color.

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The large but slowly winnowing Democratic presidential field contains several categories of candidates. One is The Progressive Populists, which I consider Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to be. (Yes, Sanders is more left than Warren, but she is certainly a progressive with the legislative and regulatory history to prove it.)

There are two other related categories: The Billionaires and The Billionaire-Friendly Non-Billionaires. Clearly, hedge fund manager Tom Steyer and finance executive Mike Bloomberg are billionaires, and John Delaney, who is merely a centibillionaire and has pumped at least $24.4 million of his own money into his utterly hopeless campaign, deserves honorary entry into this elite group, in my humble opinion.

The Billionaire-Friendly Non-Billionaires include, most notably, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg. Other moderates such as Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and progressive (kinda?) Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) are also part of this esteemed club, but by now their campaigns have no chance at success, so they’re not worth analyzing for this report.

Biden’s Billionaires

Forbes is out with a report on the 44 billionaires or their spouses who have personally donated to Biden’s campaign, some of whom have also hosted fundraisers for him. To put that in perspective, that’s more billionaires than the nations of Australia, France, Switzerland, or Japan each had in 2019, according to Forbes.

Biden’s fat cat donors include six hedge fund billionaires and five private equity titans. Other corporate leaders who donated to Biden include Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt; Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, whose wife, Aileen, donated; former Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman; and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, whose wife, Judy, donated.

These billionaire backers can only give $2,800 per election to the Biden campaign, and some are surely bundling checks from their wealthy friends, but now that Biden has flip flopped on super PAC support amidst underwhelming fundraising numbers, these Monopoly Men and Women can funnel endless amounts of money into outside ads. The super PAC, Unite the Country, made its first ad buy, a $650,000 Iowa campaign, in recent days. Unite the Country, as we reported, is led by corporate lobbyists, consultants, and party fundraisers.

In another example of bold progressive populism, both Biden and Buttigieg recently declined to rule out giving ambassadorships to campaign megadonors—a clear endorsement of the most basic pay-to-play politics. Listen, folks: Qualified ambassadors are probably good for U.S. diplomacy, but what if a rich white guy who donated $1 million to your inauguration would do a better job than, say, Gordon Sondland?

When Biden was VP, his boss continued the time-honored tradition of hooking up his major donors, giving ambassador posts to 31 bundlers who raised at least $50,000 for his campaign. Almost all of these posts were “in Western European nations or other highly developed and stable countries such as Canada and New Zealand,” according to the Center for Public Integrity. Shockingly, several of these ex-ambassadors have been bundling checks for Biden this time around.

The latest Biden fundraising news is that his campaign chairman, former lobbyist Steve Ricchetti, is hosting a fundraiser for his boss to which several current lobbyists are invited. Sure, Biden joined most of the other Dems in pledging to reject federal lobbyists’ campaign donations, but heck, the pledge didn’t say you couldn’t still give them the special access to the campaign that only big donors typically get!

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