I like Elizabeth Warren. I like her a lot. Too bad she’s a hypocrite.
I think Warren (D-Mass.) has been a great senator, and her work in setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was terrific. The CFPB is the best protection that ordinary Americans have from financial institutions that prey on them. In fact, I like her so much that when she ran for Senate in 2018, I co-chaired a couple of fundraisers for her and donated a combined $4,500 to her campaign.
Shortly after announcing her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in February, Warren said she would shun high-dollar fundraising events. “That means no fancy receptions or big money fundraisers only with people who can write the big checks,” Warren wrote in an email to supporters.
Now, Warren has every right to make that pledge even if she had obtained significant contributions from donors in the past. Doing that didn’t make her a hypocrite. But there are two other reasons why the description applies.
First, because she transferred $10.4 million from her Senate reelection campaign to her presidential campaign fund. More than $6 million came in contributions of $1,000 and up, as the New York Times recently noted. The senator appears to be trying to have it both ways — get the political upside from eschewing donations from higher-level donors and running a grass-roots campaign, while at the same time using money obtained from those donors in 2018.
The $10.4 million gave Warren a substantial head start in building a presidential-campaign staff and doing other things for which money is essential. If she weren't being hypocritical, she would have taken only the dollars raised in smaller increments from her Senate race and transferred those into her presidential account.
Second, Warren attacked former vice president Joe Biden for holding a kickoff fundraiser in Philadelphia in April, which she criticized as “a swanky private fund-raiser for wealthy donors” in an email to supporters the next day.
Well, I helped organize that affair, and I thought her attack was extremely hypocritical because nearly 20 of us who attended the Biden fundraiser had also given her $2,000 or more in 2018 at closed-door fundraisers in "swanky" locations.
Warren didn't seem to have any trouble taking our money in 2018, but suddenly we were power brokers and influence peddlers in 2019. The year before, we were wonderful. I co-chaired one of the events for the senator and received a glowing, handwritten thank-you letter from her for my hard work.
It seemed odd to some of us who gave her money that Warren was experiencing an epiphany less than 12 months later. It's one thing to fashion a campaign that relies on grass-roots fundraising, but it's another to go out of your way to characterize as power-brokers and influence-peddlers the very people whose support you have previously courted.
Now, Warren is not the first person to have been hypocritical about fundraising. Barack Obama, whom I consider one of the greatest presidents in my lifetime, vowed not to take any money from the political action committees of Wall Street firms in his 2008 campaign. At the same time, his campaign took in millions of dollars in contributions from individuals who worked for Wall Street firms.
But the news media basically gave Obama a free ride and didn't point out the blatant hypocrisy of trying to win credit for shunning contributions from Wall Street firms while taking tons of money from people who work for those same Wall Street firms. Politics can make people do peculiar things.
I also take issue with the notion, raised by Warren in her criticism of the Biden fundraiser in April, that people who give the maximum allowable individual donation of $2,800 to a presidential candidate are doing so because they believe it will get them a federal job, win their business a federal contract or even gain special access.
Donors who give $2,800 for the most part are doing so because they believe strongly that the candidate would make a great leader, or maybe they believe in the candidate's values or policies on the important issues challenging the country.
Are there some people who give or raise money in presidential campaigns with ulterior motives? Sure, but I'm confident that the crowd at the Biden fundraiser gave money to him for the same reason I did. We believe that he will be the best person to lead the country, to restore the United States' moral leadership in the world, to get things done in Washington, to create opportunity for all Americans and to protect the nation's most vulnerable citizens.
So, despite my feelings, Elizabeth, if you're reading this and you win the Democratic nomination, I will be happy to support you and will campaign for you with all my heart. And, by the way, Philadelphia has a lot more swanky restaurants that you haven't seen yet.
Ed Rendell, a Democrat, is the former governor of Pennsylvania.