The populist rhetoric of many Democratic 2020 presidential candidates has left many long-time liberal donors far from “feeling the Bern.” In early April, around 20 of the Democratic Party’s largest donors from Wall Street attended a dinner together, according to New York Magazine. Sources told the publication that the mood “wasn’t great.”
“There’s tremendous fear.”
An anonymous banker added that it was alarming to Democratic financiers that the candidates who had close ties to Wall Street, mainly New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, were faltering at the polls.
Though Biden is currently the frontrunner, he has never had close ties to Manhattan’s FiDi. Moreover, donors worry that Bernie Sanders’s popularity — including his message of economic populism — will only force the party to veer leftward. The popularity of new Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has only stoked that fear.
One banker expressed his dismay at the thought of Bernie Sanders receiving the Democratic nomination.
“I mean, honestly, if it’s Bernie versus Trump, I have no… idea what I’m going to do. Maybe I won’t vote.”
Another investment wiz agreed, and even confessed to contemplating voting for Trump due to his economic interests.
“What matters more? My social values or my paycheck?”
Though many donors believe that only Sanders, and perhaps Warren, would actually implement aggressive regulations, they are also worried about losing the “perks” that typically reward large-scale donations, according to veteran New York Democratic fundraiser Robert Zimmerman.
“A lot of the donor community is worried about losing their presidential perks and ambassadorial gigs to baristas.”
Zimmerman added that a change to the spoils system was long “overdue.” Another source confirmed that the current Democratic candidates are overlooking Wall Street donations in favor of grassroots contributions in a move he called “stunning.”
“It’s kind of stunning how a bunch of these people running for president haven’t gotten ahold of [a list of top past contributors] and said, ‘What can I do to get this person?'”
Grassroots contributions have grown astronomically in recent cycles, spearheaded by Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign. President Obama had previously set the benchmark for successful grassroots campaigning after winning 180,000 small donors in 2007. Sanders blew past that record in 2016, with an incredible 250,000 donors that contributed $15 million, per The Guardian.
However, liberal bankers are hoping that as the field narrows, the candidates will become more receptive. They are particularly open to Pete Buttigieg, who had previously worked at McKinsey, and Kamala Harris, who is actively courting FiDi funds with the help of Citi vice-chairman Ray McGuire and Pine Street partner Brian Mathis.
However, what the Democrats on Wall Street want most, according to a top fundraiser, is a winning candidate.
“There’s a lot of praying for Joe Biden.”