News. Debate. Community. Levers for a better democracy.
Spencer Platt / Getty Staff

Four takeaways from Biden’s experiment with fundraiser transparency

Reacting to criticism about the wave of big-money donors who have fueled his campaign, Joe Biden is allowing reporters into his fundraisers.

The former vice president's effort at transparency is designed to mollify Democratic voters worried about the pernicious effects that millionaires' cash can have on campaigns. And it creates some contrast with most of his presidential rivals, who are doing most of their fundraising from behind a curtain – by focusing on fundraising online and in smaller amounts not subject to disclosure.

The see-through nature of Biden's money machine is not comprehensive: Cameras are not allowed to film inside the mansions where the big donors mingle, some of the schmoozing is kept off limits, and it's "pool coverage" only, meaning a single reporter gets inside to take notes of the speeches and the atmospherics and that reporting is then shared for the rest of the press corps to use.


Still, those pool reports do peel back the curtain a bit on what goes on inside exclusive gatherings where donors pay thousands of dollars to get up close and personal with a top-tier national candidate. Four things that have become clear from the first handful of Biden events where the doors have been cracked ajar:

  1. The price may be steep, but at least the food is good. At the Los Angeles home of media executive Joe Waz and Cynthia Telles, who serves on boards affiliated with Kaiser Permanente, attendees were treated to ahi tuna ceviche and avocado, langoustine tail, and caviar.
  2. Just because the events are behind closed doors does not mean the public can't be heard. At the Telles-Waz event, about a dozen protesters from the union representing Kaiser's mental health clinicians could be heard chanting: "Kaiser, Kaiser, you can't hide: We can see your greedy side."
  3. The events don't lack for irony. In a swanky private room at the NoMad casino in Las Vegas, the hosts were MGM chief executive Jim Murren and his wife, Heather, an investor and former Wall Street analyst. Before introducing Biden, she lamented that "capitalism has been morphed into a system that concentrates wealth." At a breakfast gathering at an exclusive downtown Los Angeles social club, Biden lamented the Trump tax cut, widely seen as favoring the wealthy. "This God-awful tax cut – even though it may have benefited some of you – the God awful tax cut has not helped anybody who's real, anybody out there breaking their neck trying to figure out how to make the next meal."
  4. Joe is still Joe, no matter where he is. For the most part, Biden gave these high-dollar donors a version of the same stump speech he is giving to the huddled masses. And of course, he had to throw in references to the wisdom imparted by his grandfather: "Joey, keep the faith." And his grandmother: "No, Joey: Spread it. Go spread the faith."
News. Community. Debate. Levers for better democracy.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a trio of democracy reform bills this week.

California governor signs three political reform bills

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Tuesday three democracy reform bills focused on local redistricting, voting access and campaign contributions.

The first piece of legislation prohibits partisan gerrymandering at the local level by establishing criteria for cities and counties to use when adjusting district boundaries. While California is the largest state to use an independent redistricting commission to draw its congressional and state district maps, local districts did not have the same regulations.

Keep reading... Show less
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Gov. Ralph Northam used his executive authority to restore voting rights for felons, noting that Virginia is among the states that permanently strips such rights after a felony conviction.

Virginia governor restores voting rights to over 22,000 felons

More than 22,000 Virginians with felony convictions have regained the right to vote thanks to executive actions taken by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam since he took office in January 2018, his office announced this week.

In a statement, Northam's office said he has so far restored the civil rights of 22,205 people who had been convicted of felonies and have since completed their sentences. Those civil rights include the right to vote as well as the right to serve on juries, run for public office and become a notary public.

Northam previously announced in February that nearly 11,000 convicted felons had their voting rights restored under his watch.

Keep reading... Show less