Kirsten Gillibrand, rejecting PACs but backed by Wall Street, announces presidential bid
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) announced that she has formed an exploratory committee for a presidential run on an episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday. In the segment, Gillibrand set her candidacy around the idea that healthcare is a right, advocating for better public schools and other issues. In a tweet on Tuesday night, Gillibrand said she has received “grassroots donations” from all 50 states, saying that the campaign won’t be run by corporate PACs.
Gillibrand’s presidential aspirations coincided with a decade-long shift from a more conservative Democrat with an A-rating from the National Rifle Association to supporting progressive policies like a federal jobs guarantee, having an F-rating from the NRA and being one of the highest-profile advocates of the #MeToo movement. Gillibrand gained national attention for being the first Democratic senator to call for the eventual resignation of her colleague, former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), over accusations of sexual harassment. She played an influential role in the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
As a member of Congress, Gillibrand has been a powerful and prolific fundraising force. From 2013 to 2018, she raised more than $20 million, almost 60 percent of which came from large individual contributions. Much of the money her campaign raised was left unspent, leaving her with around $10.5 million to use on a presidential run.
Her two largest contributors in 2018 were individuals from law firms she previously practiced for, Davis, Polk & Wardwell and Boies, Schiller & Flexner. The founding partner of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, David Boies, represented Harvey Weinstein and hired an Israeli private investigation firm to intimidate Weinstein accusers and prevent publication of investigations into the claims. Both are international law firms which have offices in New York City and Washington D.C., among other locations.
In February 2018, Gillibrand announced that she would no longer accept corporate PAC money, a decision that joins the ranks of every other announced 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. Prior to that decision, PACs donated more than $831,000 to Gillibrand in the 2018 election cycle. The vast majority of that, around 60.4 percent, came from business PACs. The business PACs which gave the most to her leadership PAC and campaign combined were Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company ($32,000), UBS Ag ($30,000), National Multifamily Housing Council ($30,000) and National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts ($30,000).
One potential source of controversy in a crowded Democratic field is her close relationship with Wall Street. She reportedly reached out to financial executives to gauge support of a White House run earlier this month.
A significant portion of the money Gillibrand has fundraised has come from the securities and investment industry, most of which are Wall Street firms. In the 2018 cycle, Gillibrand received more than $1.84 million from individuals and PACs combined within the industry. The securities and investment PACs which gave the most to her reelection campaign were Bank of New York Mellon, Deutsche Bank Securities, TIAA and UBS Americas. Corporate PACs from the insurance industry were also major donors in the 2018 cycle. Marsh & McLennan and New York Life Insurance PACs both gave contributions to Gillibrand’s campaign totaling $10,000. Liberty Mutual Insurance contributed $5,200 to Gillibrand and Aon Corp gave $5,000.
Gillibrand’s leadership PAC, Empire PAC, received a significant amount of money from corporate PACs in 2018. Companies like UBS, Northrop Grumman, New York Life Insurance and others all contributed to her leadership PAC, which raised $72,500 in the 2018 cycle.
Gillibrand’s stance as being the first Democratic senator to call for Franken’s resignation may prove damaging with certain large money donors. Susie Tompkins Buell was one of the donors to go on record expressing disapproval of Gillibrand’s actions. Buell, a co-founder of North Face, said she wouldn’t support Gillibrand in the future.
Since launching her campaign last night, Gillibrand’s exploratory committee began promoting campaign and fundraising ads on Facebook. Most of the ads tout Gillibrand as being “a fighter” and as having “the strongest anti-Trump record of anyone in the Senate.” Other ads ask for small dollar donations and say that the committee is “building a grassroots movement.” Others mention Gillibrand’s goals as to “restore justice and fairness in our government” and “restore compassion to the White House.”
With speculation brewing over a potential Gillibrand presidential run for some time, some groups advocated against her in the 2018 midterms. National Horizon super PAC spent much of their money in close races in 2018. However, they spent more against Gillibrand than any other candidate, $185,000. Three of the PAC’s advertisements hit Gillibrand over Israel policy, particularly her reversal of support for an anti-Boycott, Divest and Sanction law. The ads may serve as a preemptive strike against a future presidential campaign, as only one of the three ads mentions her 2018 reelection campaign and none of them mention anything about her then-opponent. Gillibrand easily won reelection, securing 67 percent of the vote.
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