This week, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) announced she would not attend private fundraisers or one-on-one meetings with big donors. In doing so, she is declining to participate in a traditional avenue of fundraising, potentially crippling her campaign’s ability to raise money from the start. But in doing so, she is making a powerful statement that is likely to reverberate throughout the Democratic primary: the time of wealthy donors telling lawmakers what to do and how to govern needs to end now.
To be clear, Warren’s decision is a very big deal. Until Congress chooses to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform, the best Americans can hope for are candidates like her. She is the first modern-day presidential candidate who has chosen not to attend private fundraisers and forgo “call time,” the many hours a day candidates set aside to phone wealthy potential donors, both of which are traditional fundraising tools for Democrats and Republicans, but she will hopefully not be the last.
It’s important to remember that Sen. Warren did not have to do this. It is unlikely that all, or even most, of the other Democrat 2020 candidates will join her in rejecting private meetings with donors. No one would have blinked at her meeting with wealthy donors, because that’s the way campaigns have worked for decades. This announcement is a reflection of her commitment to average Americans that is even braver than it seems at first considering how her campaign has failed to meet initial fundraising goals.
There is also no guarantee that forgoing private fundraisers will end up being the difference between which Democrat wins the party’s nomination. At best, this will put pressure on other candidates to either follow Sen. Warren’s lead or make the unpopular argument that donors deserve special privileges and access over working and middle class voters. At worst, her decision will amount to nothing..
Still, the fact remains that the Democrats who have announced their candidacy for the 2020 presidential nomination, as well as the sitting president, all contend that they are running people-powered campaigns. They have all said, either implicitly or explicitly, that they want to govern on behalf of every community, improve the lives of all Americans, and unite the country. There is simply no way to do this with special interests in their ears and when one-on-one meetings are reserved for the highest bidders. Sen. Warren has not only acknowledging this truth, she is doing something about it.
When taken together with her Ultra-Millionaires Tax, which would tax households worth more than $50 million 2% and billionaires 3% annually, Sen. Warren is showing that she is not only ready to tax the rich, but also fund her campaign without their donations and outsized influence.
For years, rich Americans have been able to turn their wealth into access to powerful politicians, corrupting our democracy for their sole benefit. Now, voters have at least one candidate who is entirely beholden to special interests. The question is now, which of the other 2020 presidential candidates will join her?