The president of an investment bank that collapsed from selling junk bonds. A shadow lobbyist at private equity giant Blackstone. A law partner who defended a Saudi Arabian banker against criminal charges. A lawyer who represents bankers accused of securities fraud. A financial executive who inspired the character Gordon Gekko, a personification of limitless greed.
These are some of the wealthy Manhattan elite who will be hosting fundraisers for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden early next month as he prepares for the first Democratic presidential caucuses in February.
One event, a reception, will take place the night of Jan. 6 and will be hosted by two real estate executives. The next morning, more than a dozen people, most of whom are executives at corporate law firms, will host another reception to raise money for the former Delaware senator and vice president.
Biden’s opponents Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have both eschewed big-dollar fundraisers, rejecting the practice that allows wealthy donors special access to them and their campaigns. Both also say they have no bundlers—fundraisers who collect campaign donations and raise tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars for a candidate. Their emphasis on small-dollar online fundraising has netted them far more money than Biden’s more traditional approach, and as a result, the Biden campaign reversed its previous position of disavowing outside support from super PACs.
Democratic contender Pete Buttigieg disclosed his bundlers in April but ended the practice in November, only to reverse course again after pressure from Warren and the public. Last week, Mayor Pete released the names of 113 individuals and couples who have raised at least $25,000 for his campaign, but he left off more than 20 prominent donors.
While Pete has come clean about his bundlers, no other candidate who is using bundlers has. The campaigns of Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) both said recently that they would release the identities of their bundlers, but neither has been specific about when they will do so. In contrast, Biden, who continues to lead national Democratic primary polls as is among the top contenders in the early primary states, has not made such a commitment.
Among the top issues for Democratic voters are health care and climate change. While his progressive opponents have laid out ambitious plans to implement a Green New Deal, and Sanders has proposed a comprehensive Medicare for All system, Biden’s policy platform evinces more modest goals, which activists see as inadequate to rein in the health care profiteers and the fossil fuel companies.
Still, Biden claims to support a Green New Deal, calling it “a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face,” and has proposed a public health care option. Based on their resumes, it appears many of Biden’s key allies in the presidential contest see things a bit differently.
Most of the hosts of Biden’s Manhattan fundraisers in January are corporate lawyers. These attorneys, many of them partners at their firms, have represented financial, oil and gas, and pharmaceutical companies.
Other hosts are finance and real estate executives. Unlike his chief competitors, Sanders and Warren, Biden has had a friendly relationship with the finance industry throughout his career. He supported bills making it harder for people to reduce their student debt and to file for bankruptcy and voted for the repeal of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall law that prohibited banks from owning securities and insurance companies. Biden represented Delaware, a corporate tax haven that’s home to numerous credit card companies, in the Senate for 35 years.
Here are the lawyers, finance executives, and others who will host Biden’s Jan. 7 fundraiser:
Joe Asher—Sports Betting CEO
Asher, formerly a lawyer with Skadden Arps, is CEO of the U.S. branch of William Hill, a United Kingdom-based sports betting company. With “a long background in the gaming industry and a lifelong passion for the race and sports betting business,” Asher’s early career involved management positions at horse racetracks in Delaware, including the Brandywine Raceway. He founded a betting company and named it Brandywine Bookmaking; the company was later acquired by William Hill.
Asher began donating to Biden’s campaigns in 2004, and went on to give money to both Obama presidential campaigns and, last year, to Biden’s leadership PAC, American Possibilities.
Marcus A. Asner—Law Partner at Arnold Porter
Arnold Porter partner Asner is a trial lawyer and co-chairs the firm’s anti-corruption practice. An assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2000 to 2009, Porter and his colleagues in the anti-corruption unit “vigorously defend companies and individuals by anticipating and strategically responding to government investigations and enforcement actions.” Arnold Porter’s anti-corruption clients include defense, energy, financial services, insurance, and pharmaceutical companies, according to the firm’s website.
Richard J. Davis—Corporate Lawyer
Davis has worked in government, having served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, as chief trial counsel in two Watergate trials, and on the New York City Campaign Finance Board, a position he still holds. He’s also spent many years as a corporate lawyer, working with clients in the “coal, nuclear, pharmaceutical, banking, financial, real estate, bio-tech, entertainment, alcoholic beverage, and insurance” industry, according to his website.
Claire DeMatteis—Former Corporate Lobbyist, Government Official
Currently the commissioner of the Delaware Department of Correction, DeMatteis spent ten years as senior counsel to Biden when he was a U.S. senator. Since then, she’s been a partner at law and lobbying firm Stradley Ronon, general counsel at Catalina Marketing and Affinity Health Plan, and, currently, a board member of Nemours, a children’s health care system founded by a member of the du Pont family. While at Stradley Ronon, she lobbied on behalf DuPont, the chemical company that evolved out of the du Pont family gunpowder business, and nutraceuticals company Integrated BioPharma.
Doug W. Dunham—Law Partner at Dechert
A partner at Dechert LLP, Dunham has represented insurance industry clients such as State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. and MetLife, as well as “leading…pharmaceutical companies.” His other experience includes work in “federal securities, environmental, commercial, employment, discrimination, and white collar criminal litigation,” according to the Dechert website.
Much of Dunham’s work involves defending corporations against fraud allegations and negative health impacts. He has “defended clients against consumer fraud claims, claims involving insurance sales practices and claims of personal injury as the result of exposure to, or the consumption of, asbestos, tobacco and alcoholic beverages.”
Dunham bundled a combined 961,000 for the 2008 and 2012 Obama-Biden campaigns.
Asher Edelman—Former “Corporate Raider”
A former finance executive characterized as a “corporate raider” for his work selling off parts of companies in which he invested in the 1980s, Edelman partially inspired the fictional Gordon Gekko character from Oliver Stone’s Wall Street movies. He has since been active in the art world, founding art financing and leasing businesses. In 2016, he endorsed Sanders, saying the senator was the best candidate for the economy because his policies would put more money into the pockets of low-income people, who tend to spend most or all of their income, which would stimulate the economy.
Bart Friedman—Law Partner at Cahill Gordon & Reindel
Friedman is partner and senior counsel at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP and also serves on multiple corporate boards, including that of New York-based Ovid Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company that manufactures drugs that treat rare neurological disorders. Ovid is a member of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a pharmaceutical trade group that is a member of Partnership for American’s Health Care Future, an industry front group that is spending millions on ads attacking Medicare for Al.
At Cahill, Friedman’s clients include pharmaceutical company Pfizer—a member of PhRMA, another major pharmaceutical trade association that is a member of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, eyecare product manufacturer Bausch & Lomb, Coca-Cola, mortgage lender Freddie Mac, Qualcomm, Walmart, and managed health care company Wellcare. He has advised financial firms such as Swiss Bank, UBS, and ING on mergers and acquisitions.
Thomas A. Humphreys—Law Partner at Mayer Brown
A partner at Mayer Brown and a member of its Tax Transactions & Consulting practice, Humphreys has worked with fossil fuel, pharmaceutical, and finance companies. His clients include Keystone oil pipeline operator Transcanada, drugmaker Forest Laboratories, which is headquartered in Biden’s home state of Delaware, and MetLife Capital.
Mark N. Kaplan—Of Counsel at Skadden Arps
A counsel for the Capital Markets Group at Skadden Arps, an international law firm based in Manhattan, Kaplan works with defense, energy, finance, retail, and fashion clients. The Capital Markets Group represents investment banks, private equity firms, and governments and government entities, according to the Skadden website.
Kaplan is currently a director of 20 offshore commodity funds managed by Gresham Investment Management, a commodity futures trader. Gresham’s largest commodity area is energy, which makes up 35% of its portfolio.
Prior to his work at Skadden Arps, Kaplan spent seven years as president and CEO of Drexel Burnham Lambert, a now-defunct investment bank that pioneered the use of “junk bonds” to finance high-risk ventures. Years after Kaplan left the firm, it pled guilty to six felonies stemming from its junk bond operations.
Karen Kasner—Former Corporate and Real Estate Litigator
After a career in corporate law, Kasner now focuses on volunteer work. Her husband, Jay B. Kasner, is partner and national head of securities litigation at Skadden Arps. Like some other Biden hosts, Jay Kasner has worked for clients in the oil and gas, pharmaceutical, and finance industries. He has represented businesses such as Anadarko Petroleum, Brazilian petroleum company Petrobras, Pfizer, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase, as well as Sprint and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
Alex Katz—Government Affairs Executive at Blackstone
After working for former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is running for president, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and the Democrat-supporting super PAC Senate Majority PAC, Katz joined private equity giant Blackstone as vice president of government relations in February 2019. There, Katz “helps navigate political, legislative, and regulatory issues for the firm and its portfolio companies” and “manages a team of political risk specialists and oversees strategic initiatives at the federal, state, and local levels of government.”
Katz is not registered as a federal lobbyist, but Blackstone employs several lobbying firms to promote its interests in Washington. Blackstone spent $640,000 on federal lobbying in the third quarter of this year.
Gary Naftalis—Chairman of Law Firm Kramer Levin
The co-chairman of Kramer Levin and its chair of litigation, Naftalis defends corporations and their executives against allegations of insider trading, market manipulation, accounting irregularities, stock options backdating, and other forms of financial fraud.
Among his former clients is “a prominent Saudi Arabian banker,” whom he successfully defended from “state criminal charges and in proceedings before the Federal Reserve Board relating to the disposition of his interest in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), as well as complex civil litigation brought by the liquidators of BCCI seeking $10 billion in damages.”
Shawn Naunton—Law Partner at Zuckerman Spaeder
A partner at Zuckerman Spaeder, Naunton specializes in defending individuals against securities fraud charges. Naunton and his team “have extensive experience representing financial services companies, executives, boards of directors, accountants, lawyers, financial services professionals, and shareholders in matters involving allegations of financial fraud, financial misstatements and nondisclosures, insider trading, questionable foreign payments, failure to perform professional obligations, and violations of fiduciary duties,” according to a press release about one of Naunton’s successful cases.
Richard Sirota—Cuomo Campaign Treasurer
Private investor and consultant Sirota has been New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s campaign treasurer for several years. Cuomo, a moderate Democrat who previously formed an alliance with GOP-friendly Democrats to keep progressive lawmakers in check, endorsed Biden earlier this year and, as CNBC reported in April, opened up his fundraising network to the former VP.
Sirota gave more than $40,000 to Cuomo’s campaigns from 2012-14, according to New York state campaign finance records.
A few other January fundraiser hosts have donated to Cuomo as well. Dunham has donated $28,000 to Cuomo’s campaigns since 2010, and Friedman gave $2,000 to Cuomo from 2010-11. But the biggest Cuomo donors among the bunch are hosting the Jan. 6 reception.
Headlining the Jan. 6 event are two executives from the New York real estate industry.
Barry M. Gosin—CEO of Newmark Group
Gosin is CEO of Newmark Group, the parent company of major real estate advisory firm Newmark Knight Frank. The firm has 400 offices around the world, including two in the United Arab Emirates and one in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Jeff Gural—Chairman of GFP Real Estate
Chairman emeritus of Newmark Knight Frank, Gural is chairman and principle of GFP Real Estate, which owns over 11 million square feet of commercial real estate. GFP has financial relationships with Newmark Knight Frank and major financial institutions such as Capital One, Deutsche Bank, and Wells Fargo.
The real estate industry accounts for “a hugely disproportionate share” of Cuomo’s campaign cash. Gosin and his wife, Jackie, donated $188,000 to Cuomo’s campaigns from 2010-15. Gural and his wife, Paula, have given $142,000 to Cuomo’s campaigns since 2010.
Biden just received the backing of two additional New York political fundraisers who previously supported Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who recently dropped out of the race. Billionaire hedge fund manager Marc Lasry and Blair Effron, CEO of investment banking and private equity firm Centerview Partners, will help finance the Biden campaign, according to a CNBC article published Thursday.
Lasry, who has donated the maximum allowed amount to Biden and several other Democratic contenders, heads up Avenue Capital Group, which invests in distressed debt. He raised over $100,000 for the 2016 Clinton campaign. From 2006-09, Chelsea Clinton worked as an associate of Avenue Capital. Lasry bundled $500,000 for the 2012 Obama-Biden campaign.
Centerview has advised many large corporations, including Pfizer on acquisitions, Sprint on its proposed merger with T-Mobile, General Electric’s asset sale, and tobacco company Reynolds American on a buyout bid. Rahm Emanuel joined the firm this summer after his time as Chicago mayor.
Effron and his wife, Cheryl, also bundled donations for Clinton in 2016, and Effron gave between $100,001 and $250,000 to the Clinton Foundation. Like Lasry, Effron bundled $500,000 for Obama-Biden in 2012 and has donated the maximum amount to multiple presidential candidates in addition to Biden.