‘Everything is frozen’: Donors hold back dollars amid fallout over Biden’s candidacy

Democratic donors are deeply concerned about President Joe Biden’s viability as a candidate as the party continues to wrestle with the path forward — and holding back big checks, according to multiple sources familiar with the effort.

“Everything is frozen because no one knows what’s going to happen. Everyone is in wait and see mode,” one Democratic strategist told CNN, noting that donors are hyper-focused on what Biden is doing, including interviews and his news conference Thursday.

Donors often operate behind the scenes and, according to sources, have grown increasingly anxious about Biden’s candidacy following his halting debate performance last month. And on Wednesday, George Clooney, who had been among Biden’s biggest supporters and donors in Hollywood, took the remarkable step of publicly calling for him to bow out of the presidential race.

The Clooney op-ed, the strategist said, is “going to sting.”

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s comments on MSNBC Wednesday morning also raised fresh doubts and ricocheted among donors. Pelosi told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that “it’s up to the president to decide if he is going to run. We’re all encouraging him to make that decision because time is running short.”

“Major donations have slowed remarkably since the debate,” a Democratic fundraiser told CNN, adding that small dollar donations are proceeding at pace, but noted the campaign is too vast to live on small donations alone.

A Biden campaign official told CNN that July was the best start to any month ever for grassroots fundraising. They added that several donors maxed out in the past few days and that the Biden-Harris campaign had several fundraisers across the country this month alone.

Earlier this week, Biden tried to reassure donors in a call, maintaining that he’s staying in the race and arguing he’s still the best candidate to beat Republican rival Donald Trump.

“My one job is to beat Donald Trump,” Biden said, according to one of the participants on the call, who said Biden thanked donors and renewed his pledge to keep the fight alive.

But that hasn’t calmed everyone’s nerves.

“It’s been a rough go,” one source familiar with the fundraising situation said. “In the short term, the money is a challenge, but it is a fluid situation.”

The incoming money is “drying up,” another source close to fundraising efforts told CNN, describing donors as very, very frustrated, and very, very worried.

That’s already come through in fundraisers held after the debate: A fundraiser held at New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s home following the debate raised $3.7 million – less than half of the haul raised at a pre-debate fundraiser held at the Virginia home of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe the week before the debate.

Top Chicago donors halting convention fundraising lunch for high-dollar contributors

Meanwhile, 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 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.

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 the debate, some Democratic donors continue to sound public warnings that their party could lose the White House in November if Biden remains the nominee and say they are increasingly concerned about his dug-in defiance. The president has insisted he will remain in the race and expressed 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.

Democrats stunned by last 24 hours

Many anxious Democrats who have been holding their breath and waiting to see what happens to Biden’s reelection campaign have been stunned by the past 24 hours.

One widely shared view had been that everything was likely to come to a head after this week’s NATO conference that the US is hosting just blocks away from the White House. Instead, devastating headlines have come out in rapid succession as Biden has been juggling various engagements on the global stage.

“This seems to be moving more rapidly than I thought,” one senior Democrat said.

The news of the canceled fundraiser in Chicago came hours after Clooney 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 this week that the event is “all up in the air.”

“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.”

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s MJ Lee and Jamie Gangel contributed to this report.

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