The president appears determined to stay in the race, while wealthy donors are discussing plans to direct their money elsewhere.

After days of quiet complaints and hopes that President Biden would drop his reelection campaign on his own, many wealthy Democratic donors are trying to take action of their own.

Using their wealth as both an incentive and a threat, donors have taken a number of steps to pressure Mr. Biden to step down from the top of the ticket and help pave the way for an alternative candidate.

The efforts — some coordinated, some conflicting and some still nascent — expose a notable and growing divide between the party’s contributing class and its standard-bearer that could have an impact on down-ballot races regardless of whether donors ultimately influence Mr. Biden’s decision.

On Wednesday, the president reaffirmed his commitment to staying in the race, amid criticism for his poor performance in last week’s debate. But that has not assuaged donors or strategists who fear he cannot win in November.

One group of them is working to raise up to $100 million for a sort of escrow fund, called Next Generation PAC, that would be used to support a replacement candidate. If Mr. Biden does not withdraw, the money could be used to help candidates in smaller races, according to people close to the effort.

Supporters of potential replacements, such as Vice President Kamala Harris, are positioning themselves to promote their preferred successor. Other donors are threatening to withhold contributions not only from Mr. Biden but also from other Democratic groups unless Mr. Biden withdraws.

There is a separate movement to direct money to candidates for lesser offices. And financial backers are encouraging elected officials at all levels to publicly pressure Mr. Biden to withdraw, signaling support for those who do. Some major donors, like Reed Hastings, have gone public with their calls for Mr. Biden to withdraw.

Gideon Stein, a donor and operative with deep connections in Democratic politics, said his family was withholding $3.5 million in planned donations to nonprofits and political organizations active in the presidential race unless Mr. Biden withdrew. He said virtually every major donor he had spoken to believed that “a new ticket is in the best interest of defeating Donald Trump.”

Abigail E. Disney, the filmmaker and heiress to the Disney fortune, said in an email exchange that Mr. Biden’s campaign and the committees supporting it — including the Democratic National Committee, super PACs and nonprofit groups — “will not receive another dime from me until they face reality and replace Biden at the top of the ticket.” Ms. Disney, who has been a major Democratic donor, added: “Biden is a good man who has served his country well, but the stakes are too high to allow timidity to determine our course of action.”

Damon Lindelof, a Hollywood producer who has donated more than $115,000 to Democrats this election cycle and who attended Mr. Biden’s Hollywood fundraiser last month, published an essay in Deadline calling for what he called a “DEMbargo” on Mr. Biden and other Democratic candidates until or unless Mr. Biden withdraws. Mr. Lindelof said in a text message exchange: “No one is eager to donate to anyone until the proverbial dust settles.”

The financial pressure campaign comes as Mr Biden and his team seek to reassure Democratic donors and officials that he is up to the task, privately telling key allies that he knows the next few days are crucial and acknowledging that he may not be able to salvage his candidacy.

Outside the White House on Wednesday, some major Democratic donors are looking for a way to build a financial infrastructure for a post-Biden campaign, but not all big donors are jumping ship. Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times

If Mr. Biden continues to pull ahead, it could create a dramatic impasse with a base of big donors just when it is needed most: as the race enters its final stretch of high-spending efforts. While Mr. Biden narrowly outspent Donald J. Trump last month, it is unclear whether he has erased the financial advantage that Mr. Trump and his party had over Mr. Biden and his party in early June.

A surge in donations to Mr. Biden’s campaign after the debate was driven largely by online donations, which tend to come from smaller donors, although he also attended some previously planned fundraising receptions with large donors.

And not all big donors are jumping ship. Some of the ticket’s wealthy supporters, even those who want a different candidate, said they were still donating, albeit reluctantly. Still, some Democrats are concerned about the rate at which large sums of money are being raised. No fundraising events featuring Mr. Biden are planned until an event in Denver later this month, according to a recent list of events distributed to Mr. Biden’s top donors, though more may be added.

But many big donors are looking for a way to move forward and build a financial infrastructure for a post-Biden campaign.

“This is a unique thing,” said James Carville, the veteran Democratic strategist. He added that he had encouraged donors to decline fundraising calls from Democratic campaign groups and that the current situation was different from donor revolts in past campaigns, when contributors complained but, “most of the time, you sit back, listen, take notes and then say ‘yes,’ and then do nothing and everything is fine.”

Many anxious Biden megadonors are keeping quiet publicly, wary of being seen as involved in a big-money scam. Instead, several said in interviews that they are shifting their donations to protect candidates for Congress and state offices from the damage that could result from concerns about the top of the ticket.

“You have to keep funding the machine,” said Andrew E. Beck III, a retired financial executive who has donated more than $100,000 to Mr. Biden’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Beck, who goes by Trey, signed a statement released on Wednesday by a coalition of business executives calling on Mr. Biden to step down and has also worked privately to persuade Democratic elected officials to publicly call for that outcome.

But of all the efforts by wealthy Democrats, perhaps none is as ambitious as the Next Generation PAC, which plans to create an escrow account to support a successor to Mr. Biden at the top of the Democratic ticket. Several proposals to set aside some money for a Democratic candidate other than Joe Biden have gained traction among leaders on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, according to four people familiar with the conversations.

The new PAC effort is led by Mike Novogratz, the cryptocurrency billionaire who backed Dean Phillips in the Democratic primary; his aides; and Hollywood filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, according to three people briefed on the plan, with likely support from the Movement Voter Project. The Next Generation PAC, which had not filed federal documents as of Thursday afternoon, has told donors that it is seeking to raise between $50 million and $100 million but does not plan to officially begin until some money is available.

This anyone-but-Biden group intends to hold on to the money until Mr. Biden withdraws as a candidate or the Democratic National Convention concludes, according to materials distributed to donors and reviewed by The New York Times. If Mr. Biden withdraws, the PAC would spend money on ads for the new candidate and against Mr. Trump. If Mr. Biden remains as a candidate, the group says it will spend the money helping other Democrats.

People close to Biden’s team learned about the stealth project and tried to convince some involved not to join it, according to one of the people. The donors and strategists did not respond to requests for comment.

Some of those efforts may benefit Ms. Harris, who has faced skepticism from some big donors but whose allies are now quietly consolidating some support from ultra-wealthy donors and their big financial operators, according to interviews and internal memos.

If Mr Biden were to abandon his re-election campaign and be replaced by Vice President Kamala Harris, she could inherit the campaign cash. Foto: Doug Mills/The New York Times

People close to Ms. Harris have reached out to influential business leaders to assess how she could build her donor base, according to two people familiar with the contact.

If Mr. Biden were to step down and be replaced by Ms. Harris, she could inherit the campaign’s cash, which stood at $212 million as of early last month. If another candidate were to become the nominee, the process could become more complicated, potentially requiring the funds to be transferred to the D.N.C. or an independent group.

Some Democratic mega-donors have told Biden’s campaign directly that they support a candidate switch, according to a fundraiser who relayed that message. Others have asked where their money would go if he were to pull out.

“We are fully planning on President Biden being the nominee, but most of the money raised by the Biden Victory Fund goes to the DNC, which supports every Democrat on the ballot,” a mid-level campaign staffer told a group of donors, according to a person who shared the written message.

Some Harris supporters are ready to speak out publicly.

“We are ready to support a Harris ticket,” said Jon Henes, who led the national finance committee for Ms. Harris’s 2020 campaign. Mr. Henes said he supported Mr. Biden but that if he chose not to run, “there is no doubt that she is ready to be president.”

Raymond J. McGuire, chairman of the financial firm Lazard, called Ms. Harris “uniquely capable of uniting this nation across all divides.”

“Her candidacy is compelling,” he said. So far, there is no such candidacy.

Via The New York Times.


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