Kamala Harris Sends ‘Game On’ Signal to Donors Sitting on Their Wallets
Senator Kamala Harris, Democratic vice presidential nominee, speaks during the Democratic National Convention at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. (Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg)

Kamala Harris Sends ‘Game On’ Signal to Donors Sitting on Their Wallets

Kamala Harris’s arrival on the Democratic presidential ticket has helped prompt an historic outpouring of contributions, bringing in women donors, Californians and others who had avoided donating to the Biden campaign until they saw his running-mate pick.

The pace and magnitude of the mostly virtual fundraising for the Biden-Harris ticket far eclipse what she accomplished during her own presidential run last year and has thrust her into a highly visible role among small-dollar and big-dollar donors, starting with the Democratic bastions in Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

Kamala Harris Sends ‘Game On’ Signal to Donors Sitting on Their Wallets

Harris was named Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s running mate on Aug. 11. That month, the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee set a record for monthly campaign fundraising with an intake of $364.5 million. Some $48 million alone came in the first two days after Biden announced Harris’s selection.

The California senator headlined a fundraiser Monday evening with 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and comedian Amy Poehler that brought in $6 million from 100,000 people with an average donation of $30, Clinton announced. That compares to the $6.3 million that Biden brought in the first 24 hours of his presidential run, when interest was very high.

Last week, entertainer Billy Porter and Indian-American television host Padma Lakshmi helped Harris bring in $3 million.

“Vice President Biden has never been the strongest fundraiser in Washington,” said Cooper Teboe, a Democratic fundraising strategist in Silicon Valley. “He spent his time in the Senate taking the train home to Delaware every night to be a father to his kids instead of sitting in his office making phone calls, and never fostered the kind of donor relationships many politicians do.”

“Senator Harris has been courting supporters and making friends for the better part of two decades. Her nomination was a signal to her Rolodex that it’s game on.”

Harris has kept up a torrid pace of virtual fundraisers, holding as many as three a day.

“There are a lot of people who were waiting to see who Biden picked,” said California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, a Democrat and longtime Harris supporter who has co-chaired three online events in recent weeks raising more than $11 million for the Biden campaign. “Once she was chosen, it unleashed a cascade of excitement and support for the ticket. Everyone stood up and started clamoring for events.”

The fresh influx of campaign contributions speaks to Democratic donors’ enthusiasm for the symbolic significance of Harris’s appointment as vice-presidential nominee, the first Black and Indian-American woman to appear on a major-party presidential ticket.

“Kamala was absolutely the right choice for this moment,” said Stacy Mason, executive director of Electing Women Bay Area. “She has a proven track record, and I think in this moment of reckoning in our country, the choice to pick a Black woman was necessary. I think he had no choice.”

For the Hollywood-Silicon Valley corridor, it also helps, donors say, that she’s the first Democratic candidate from California on a presidential ticket in the modern political era, just when the state is being ravaged by climate-change driven wildfires.

Some big Democratic donors sat on the sidelines until Harris was in. Among those giving for the first time to the ticket now are: Actor George Clooney and his wife, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney; Trisha Cardoso, the former communications head for Showtime Networks; Laura Shell, wife of NBC Universal Media Chief Executive Officer Jeff Shell; and director Lee Daniels, Federal Election Commission filings show. All have attended virtual fundraisers with Harris.

Professional fundraisers say her network from three successful statewide races was holding back on giving to the Biden campaign as donors waited to see whether Biden would choose a woman -- and a woman of color they know -- as his running mate.

The network of female donors Harris who are now contributing to Biden’s presidential effort includes television producer Dayna Bochco, Esprit Holdings co-founder Susie Tompkins Buell and Seagram heiress Ellen Bronfman Hauptman.

“This moment means the world to women in the technology industry,” Teboe said. “They know she understands the nuances of tech and how Silicon Valley can maintain its lead in the innovation economy against China.”

Electing Women Bay Area hosted a Sept. 1 fundraiser with a minimum donation of $1,000 per person that took in $1.25 million, more than twice its goal. Of the 55 hosts and co-hosts who were part of the event, 37 had donated to Harris before for state races.

Recent fundraisers that featured Harris or Harris and Biden together included a Sept. 8 Bay Area event that raised more than $3 million; an Aug. 26 event in Los Angeles with Lakshmi that raised more than $5 million; and a June 9 event that raised more than $3 million, before Harris was named to the ticket.

Though the Trump campaign doesn’t release figures, Vice President Mike Pence’s events typically bring in between $1 million and $1.25 million, according to a GOP fundraiser who asked not to be named because he doesn’t speak for the party.

Harris’s fundraising network extends beyond California to alumnae of historically Black colleges, her own Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and other Black sororities and fraternities. Members of the “Divine Nine,” the historically Black Greek letter fraternities and sororities, poured in donations to Biden’s campaign in amounts corresponding to the year each group was founded after Harris was picked.

Gaynell Hendricks, an Alpha Kappa Alpha member who attended a Harris fundraiser during her presidential run, gave money to Biden’s campaign the day the pick was announced. “When she was his choice, that’s certainly energized us.”

Female donors, in particular, were dismayed that none of the women running for president last year emerged with the nomination – and were ready to open their wallets after Biden, as he pledged to do, chose a female running mate.

“There was a fairly widespread, profound, I would call it grief, after Elizabeth Warren withdrew,” said Steve Phillips, a longtime San Francisco fundraiser and host of the podcast Democracy in Color. “That accrues to Kamala’s benefit now. Donors are saying, yes, we should a have a woman, yes we should have a person of color. That’s the country I want to live in. Now that she is a historic choice for vice president, it taps back to that Obama thing and people wanting to be part of making that history.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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