Warren Embraced Rich Donors in 2018 That Helped Fund Presidential Campaign

Former Warren donor: 'Can you spell hypocrite?'

Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks to a crowd of around 800 at a Labor Day house party on September 2, 2019 in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
September 9, 2019

Critics are calling Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) a "hypocrite" for decrying big-money fundraisers as a presidential candidate after she racked up checks at such events for her Senate reelection bid last year.

Warren won praise from the left after announcing she would not hold private events for rich donors to fund her 2020 campaign, promising equal access to every person who gave her money, no matter the amount.

"Everyone who wants to be a part of our grassroots movement has access to this campaign, no matter what," the campaign said in an email Sunday.

Warren, however, was able to bankroll the outset of her 2020 campaign with millions she collected in 2018 at events in Manhattan, Philadelphia, Silicon Valley, Martha's Vineyard, and Boston, the last hosted by Massachusetts power-broker John Connors Jr., the New York Times reported. Warren held finance events as late as two weeks before her Senate election, which she won by 24 points.

Warren played coy about her presidential ambitions throughout 2018, at several points saying, "I am not running for president in 2020." However, she said in October she would take a "hard look" at running, all but confirming the rumors she had her eyes on the White House.

Then, she transferred $10.4 million left over from the Senate run to her presidential campaign—records show roughly $6 million of that total came from donors who gave $1,000 or more. She lagged in fundraising as a presidential candidate at the beginning, raising just $6 million in the first quarter. Still, she was able to invest heavily in early primary states with her swelled coffers.

Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (D.), who gave Warren $4,000 last year and is now a Joe Biden supporter, isn't happy about her about-face.

He helped gather donors at a Warren dinner last year at a ritzy Philadelphia steakhouse. Yet, Warren attacked Biden this year for holding a "swanky private fundraiser" at the home of Comcast executive David Cohen. Some of the same donors who attended Biden's event appeared at Warren's fundraisers last year.

"Can you spell hypocrite?" Rendell told the Times.

"She didn’t have any trouble taking our money the year before," Rendell went on. "All of a sudden, we were bad guys and power brokers and influence-peddlers. In 2018, we were wonderful."

Warren's decision to jettison wealthy donors led to the departure of her fundraising director in March, but her standing in fundraising and polling has surged since then.

She raised $19.1 million in the second quarter, more than tripling her first quarter haul. She consistently ranks in the top two or three of early-state and national polling in the Democratic primary, establishing herself in the top tier with Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.).

Warren communications director Kristen Orthman said the campaign was pleased that "our grass-roots strategy has been so effective that they’re now threatened enough to be attacking us for it."

Warren and Biden will meet on the debate stage Thursday for the first time. Only 10 Democrats made the third round of debates because of stricter qualification rules from the Democratic National Committee. Biden and Warren debated on separate nights during the first two rounds in June and July.

Warren has said she will end her ban on fundraisers if she wins the Democratic nomination, citing a need to remain competitive with her Republican opponent.