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Major Democratic Donors Devise Plans to Pressure Biden to Step Aside

Major Democratic Donors Devise Plans to Pressure Biden to Step Aside

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After several days of quiet griping and hoping that President Biden would abandon his re-election campaign on his own, many wealthy Democratic donors are trying to take matters into their own hands.

Wielding their fortunes as both carrot and stick, donors have undertaken a number of initiatives to pressure Mr. Biden to step down from the top of the ticket and help lay the groundwork for an alternate candidate.

The efforts — some coordinated, some conflicting and others still nascent — expose a remarkable and growing rift between the party’s contributor class and its standard-bearer that could have an impact on down-ballot races, whether or not the donors influence Mr. Biden’s decision.

The president on Wednesday reaffirmed his commitment to stay in the race amid criticism of his weak debate performance last week. But that has not placated donors or strategists who worry that he cannot win in November.

A group of them is working to raise as much as $100 million for a sort of escrow fund, called the Next Generation PAC, that would be used to support a replacement candidate. If Mr. Biden does not step aside, the money could be used to help down-ballot candidates, according to people close to the effort.

Supporters of potential replacements like Vice President Kamala Harris are jockeying to position their preferred successor. Other donors are threatening to withhold contributions not only from Mr. Biden but also from other Democratic groups unless Mr. Biden bows out.

There is a separate movement to steer money to candidates for lower offices. And financial supporters are urging elected officials at all levels to publicly pressure Mr. Biden to withdraw, signaling support for those who follow through. Some major donors like Reed Hastings have gone public with calls for Mr. Biden to stand down.

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 stepped aside. He said that virtually every major donor he had spoken with believed that “a new ticket is in the best interest of defeating Donald Trump.”

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

If Mr. Biden forges ahead, it could set up a dramatic impasse with a major donor base at the moment it is most needed: when the race enters its heavy-spending homestretch. While Mr. Biden narrowly outraised Donald J. Trump last month, it is not clear if he erased the financial advantage that Mr. Trump and his party held over Mr. Biden and his party at beginning of June.

A surge in donations to Mr. Biden’s campaign after the debate was powered mostly by online donations, which tend to come from smaller donors, though he also attended a handful of preplanned fund-raising receptions with major donors.

And not all big donors are jumping ship. Some of the ticket’s wealthy backers, even those who want a different candidate, said they were still writing checks, if begrudgingly. Still, some Democrats are concerned about the rate of big-money fund-raising. No fund-raisers feature Mr. Biden until a Denver event at the end of the month, according to a recent list of events distributed to major Biden donors, although more may be added.

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

“This is something unique,” said James Carville, the longtime Democratic strategist. He added that he had encouraged donors to refuse fund-raising calls from Democratic campaign groups and that the unfolding situation differed from donor revolts in past campaigns, when contributors would complain but, “for the most part, you sit down and you listen and you take notes and then you just tell them ‘yes,’ and then do nothing and everything is fine.”

Many anxious Biden megadonors are staying quiet publicly, skittish about being seen as being involved in a big-money coup. Instead, several said in interviews that they were shifting their giving to buffer candidates for Congress and state offices from 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 finance executive who has donated more than $100,000 to Mr. Biden’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Beck signed a statement released Wednesday by a coalition of business executives urging Mr. Biden to stand down and also has worked privately to persuade Democratic elected officials to publicly call for that result.

But of all the efforts by wealthy Democrats, perhaps none is as ambitious as the Next Generation PAC, which plans to create a holding account to support a successor to Mr. Biden atop the Democratic ticket. Multiple proposals to set aside some money for a Democratic candidate not named Joe Biden have gained steam among leaders on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, according to four people familiar with the conversations.

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

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

People connected to the Biden team have caught wind of this stealth project and tried to talk some involved out of joining it, according to one of the people. The donors and strategists did not return requests for comment.

Some of these efforts could redound to the benefit of Ms. Harris, who has faced skepticism from some major donors but whose allies are now privately consolidating some support from ultrarich donors and their big-money operatives, according to interviews and internal memos.

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

If Mr. Biden were to step aside and be replaced by Ms. Harris, she could inherit the campaign’s money, which stood at $212 million at the beginning of 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 megadonors have told the Biden campaign directly that they are in favor of a candidate swap, according to one fund-raiser who has relayed that message. Others have asked where their money would go if he were to step down.

“We are fully planning for President Biden to be the nominee, but the majority of the money raised through the Biden Victory Fund goes to the D.N.C., which supports all Democrats on the ballot,” one midlevel campaign staff member told a group of donors, according to a person who shared the written message.

A few Harris supporters are nevertheless ready to speak out publicly.

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

Raymond J. McGuire, the president of the financial firm Lazard, called Ms. Harris “singularly capable of bringing this nation together by crossing every divide.”

“Her candidacy is compelling,” he said. As of now, it does not exist.

Kate Kelly contributed reporting.

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