WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren has a message for political donors seeking to schmooze with her at glitzy fund-raisers: No thanks.
The presidential candidate, who has already sworn off campaign donations from PACs and support from SuperPACs, announced to her supporters in an e-mail Monday morning that she has decided to distance herself further from big money in politics by rejecting the high-dollar fund-raisers that help power both Democratic and Republican campaigns.
Warren’s move will likely put pressure on other Democrats who are facing the daunting task of raising millions of dollars to get them through the primary while also appealing to a base increasingly suspicious of special interests and the influence of monied donors.
“Candidates for public office in America spend way too much time with wealthy donors,” Warren wrote. “For every time you see a presidential candidate talking with voters at a town hall, rally, or local diner, those same candidates are spending three or four or five times as long with wealthy donors — on the phone, or in conference rooms at hedge fund offices, or at fancy receptions and intimate dinners — all behind closed doors.”
Warren said she believed everyone who supported her campaign should have equal access to her as a candidate — whether they’re giving $1 or thousands of dollars.
“That means no fancy receptions or big money fund-raisers only with people who can write the big checks,” Warren wrote, adding that she also would not spend her time calling wealthy donors soliciting money. “As a candidate for president, the expectation is you make hours of these calls a week and attend dozens of these exclusive events every quarter.”
The step is far more meaningful than swearing off corporate PAC money, which a stampede of 2020 Democrats has raced to do.
Corporate PAC money rarely adds up to more than a fraction of a presidential campaign, while large individual donations — many of them coming from fund-raisers — can add up to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Hillary Clinton, for example, raised millions for her 2016 run by headlining hundreds of star-studded fund-raisers. Donors were asked to shell out the maximum $2,700 contribution to get a brief photo op with Clinton. Even Senator Bernie Sanders, who ran on a message of getting money out of politics, headlined a Hollywood fund-raiser where donors were required to dish out $250 minimum to attend, with extra donations buying access to an additional reception.
Warren hasn’t held a fund-raiser since she announced an exploratory committee on New Year’s Eve, even skipping that ritual when she traveled to California earlier this month for a rally. California has long functioned as an ATM for candidates, and Warren attended glitzy fund-raisers there in the past as a Senate candidate.
Meanwhile, Senator Kamala Harris, one of Warren’s rivals for the 2020 Democratic nomination, mingled with Boston donors in February who paid $1,000 to $2,800 to her campaign to attend the reception.
Warren is not swearing off large donations from wealthy people altogether, and also hasn’t ruled out small-donor fund-raisers. Her pledge also extends only to the Democratic primary, not the general election. But forgoing fancy fund-raisers and dialing for dollars will likely take a significant financial toll on Warren’s campaign coffers.
Warren writes that she knows she’ll be “outraised” by other candidates by making this decision, but hopes to make up the difference in grass-roots support.
“If we do this in the primary, we will build the kind of grassroots organization we need to win the general election,” she wrote.