Michael Graham, Tribune News Service
What happens in the wine cave stays in the wine cave. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work in the world of American politics. For decades, Democrats would rail against the “wealthiest 1%” and “tax cuts for the rich,” often before audiences of some of the wealthiest people in America.
Then came Sen. Elizabeth Warren. After years of successfully raising millions of dollars the same way, Warren has now decided that accepting campaign contributions from wealthy donors and PACs is a form of corruption. “When you see a government that works great for the wealthy and the well-connected and for no one else, that is corruption, pure and simple. And we need to call it out for what it is,” Warren said in the most recent Democratic debate, before calling out Mayor Pete Buttigieg. By name.
“So the mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine,” she complained. “Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.”
Mayor Pete pushed back with the obvious observation that Warren has spent her entire pre-POTUS political career attending similar fundraisers, often attended by literally the same wealthy donors. Most pundits believe he withstood Warren’s attack without a scratch.
Now the question is: What about the rest of the Democratic Party?
While Warren is on the stump declaring, “I don’t do call time with millionaires and billionaires, I don’t meet behind closed doors with big-dollar donors,” New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is funding her 2020 reelection campaign doing exactly that. The Granite State Democrat’s race has been declared one of the most competitive in the country, and there’s a possibility she may face former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
What’s an incumbent Democrat in a swing state to do? What they’ve always done — head to the wine cave. Figuratively speaking.
After raising a then-record $16.5 million in her 2014 reelection bid (in an odd twist of geographic fate, against former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown), Shaheen’s already raised around $7.5 million this cycle, setting another Granite State quarterly fundraising record along the way.
And she’s raised her money the old-fashioned way: She’s asked rich people to give it to her. Shaheen made phone calls to millionaires, took checks from PACs, and attended high-dollar events like a star-studded Hollywood fundraiser featuring Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Ticket price? $32,400 apiece. And yes, there were billionaires present. Events like this are nothing new, and Shaheen is far from unique. Virtually every politician who raises significant amounts of money —Republican or Democrat — does the same thing.
This is the problem with Sen. Bernie Sanders saying “we are living in a nation increasingly becoming an oligarchy, where you have a handful of billionaires who spend hundreds of millions of dollars buying elections and politicians.” Many of the politicians he’s declaring “bought” are his fellow Democrats.
And they’re starting to notice. In the debate, Joe Biden lashed out against Sanders’ suggestion “that I am in the pocket of billionaires when, in fact, they oppose everything that I have ever done.”
Ironically, according to polling at the time, America’s millionaires backed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a 13-point margin in 2016, and she outraised him among billionaires by 20 to 1. Are Warren and Sanders suggesting Hillary was the more “corrupt” candidate?
Veteran presidential campaign consultant Bob Shrum says he doesn’t believe Democratic primary voters are paying attention to the campaign fundraising issue. “Warren’s problem is that you don’t attack Buttigieg over his fundraiser in a wine cave when you just had your own high-dollar fundraiser at a winery in Boston.”
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