Top Chicago donors halting DNC fundraising lunch after Biden debate performance: source

ByKayla Tausche and Fredreka Schouten, CNN CNNWire logo
Thursday, July 11, 2024 3:41AM
Top Chicago donors halting Biden fundraiser during DNC: source
Top Chicago donors are halting a 2024 DNC fundraising lunch after President Joe Biden's debate performance against Trump, a source told CNN.

CHICAGO -- Organizers for at least one Chicago fundraiser scheduled during the Democratic National Convention have decided to not to proceed with the mid-August event, a source with knowledge of the discussions told CNN.

In the immediate wake of President Joe Biden's debate performance, organizers paused conversations on planning the fundraiser until after the July 4 holiday to allow the dust to settle. This week, the host committee decided not to proceed with the event, citing a disagreement over how to proceed given the continued erosion of support for Biden's candidacy.

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The event, designed as a lunch for a few dozen wealthy Windy City denizens, was expected to rally support among the party's loyal and well-heeled locals in a show of support for the big event in their backyard.

While the lunch itself was expected to bring in less than $1 million for the campaign, the mood of the participants - many of whom had given millions to Biden's 2020 campaign and associated entities - serves as a warning sign among some deep-blue corners of the donor class.

A spokesperson for the Biden campaign told CNN the event was not affiliated with their official fundraising schedule.

Nearly two weeks after Biden's disastrous debate performance, some Democratic donors continue to sound warnings that their party could lose the White House in November if he remains the nominee and say they are increasingly concerned about Biden's dug-in defiance. The president has insisted he will remain in the race, pitching himself this week to donors at the best person defeat Donald Trump this fall and expressing frustration with "the elites" calling for him to withdraw from the race.

Damon Lindelof, a Hollywood screenwriter and producer who recently called on fellow Democratic donors to withhold contributions until Biden steps down, told CNN in an email Wednesday he's "pretty steadfast" in that view.

"I maintain that Joe Biden is an excellent president, and I'm saddened that the intraparty language is attack/defend/retreat instead of a thoughtful and considered debate about where we are and how to get to where we need to be," Lindelof said.

"I think the characterization that the only folks asking for that conversation are 'elites' ignores the polling and the tens of millions of Americans who have been saying they were deeply concerned about our nominee for awhile now," he added.

Maggie Kulyk, a Democratic donor who runs a wealth-management firm, said her view that Biden needs to step down is shared by "people I talk to all the time - friends, clients, etc.

"To a person, they all say the same thing, that he shouldn't be at the top of the ticket," she said in a telephone interview. "Washington politicians or someone with some leverage needs to grow a spine and tell the truth that's in plain sight," she added, that Biden is dealing with "obvious cognitive issues."

"This sort of waiting around for (Biden) to make a big stumble again as an excuse, to me, seems ludicrous," Kulyk said. "The debate was the thing. We saw it."

Kulyk sits on the board of the Women Donors Network but said she was not speaking on behalf of the contributor group.

SEE ALSO: George Clooney, who co-hosted recent Biden fundraiser, says president should step aside

The news of the canceled fundraiser comes hours after actor and Biden megadonor George Clooney, who had been among Biden's biggest supporters and donors in Hollywood, called on the president to bow out of the race, just weeks after the actor headlined a major fundraiser for the president's reelection campaign.

Clooney wrote that the Biden that he saw during a June 15 fundraiser, which also included former President Barack Obama, "was not the Joe "big F-ing deal" Biden of 2010. He wasn't even the Joe Biden of 2020."

"He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate," Clooney added, referencing Biden's faltering and disastrous performance at the June 27 presidential debate on CNN.

Biden's team is currently planning to host fundraisers in Austin, Denver, and two in California - one in Laguna Beach and another in Northern California - in July, according to a source familiar with the plans.

Donors elsewhere in the country have told CNN their events are on hold until Biden's path is clearer.

John Morgan, a Florida trial attorney and longtime Biden supporter, had been working with the campaign to host a fundraiser in the state likely in early September, but he said the event is "all up in the air" at this point.

"I don't even bother them," he said about reaching out to campaign officials on the status of the event. "I'm not going to call them because they have bigger fish to fry than an event in Florida in September. They've got to get past all the naysayers."

For his part, Morgan said he remains committed to backing Biden and is willing to hold a fundraiser "only if he's the candidate."

"Some of the elite donor class is cutting and running. That's a huge mistake," Morgan said.

One long-time Democratic fundraiser said it's too soon to tell whether Biden is doing enough to stem the concerns of contributors but was relieved that there had not been a "snowball" of elected officials in Washington calling on Biden to quit the race this week once they returned from their July 4 recess.

That said, the person added, "I've not made any calls or requests (for donations) in the last week and a half ... because he's got to let some of this die down."

For its part, the Biden campaign has touted a flood of recent online financial support and the substantial infrastructure it already has built in battleground states to argue it will have the ground game and resources to compete effectively this fall.

The campaign said it raised $38 million in the four days after the debate, including $30 million from grassroots contributors. Additionally, Peter Lowy, a former retail executive, on Monday delivered the maximum $929,600 contribution to Biden's joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee, according to the campaign.

In a statement, Lowy said "there is no question about the country's success" during Biden's tenure.

"The economy is strong. Unemployment is near historic lows, more than 15 million jobs have been created, the S&P 500 is at an historic high and inflation is now decreasing," he said. "Based on all of these facts and based on my interactions with the President, when he announced his plan to run for reelection, I was totally supportive. I supported him then, and I support him today."

CNN's Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.

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