2020 Daily Trail Markers: The fate of unspent presidential campaign cash


By the end of March, as the Democratic primary process wound down, the two dozen Democratic presidential hopefuls had raised nearly $800 million total to fund their bids for the White House, more than double the direct contributions to the supersized GOP 2016 field in the same time period. 

The Democrats’ fundraising estimates here don’t include eye-popping numbers like the $1.04 billion Mike Bloomberg put toward his own campaign and $315 million Tom Steyer dropped for his presidential run.  

At the same time, the crowded field also spent more than $2.1 billion through the end of March including more than $1 billion by Bloomberg, nearly $350 million by Steyer, and more than $195 million by Bernie Sanders, who then suspended his campaign in early April. 

Despite more than $2 billion in fundraising and expenditures since the primary kicked off last year, records show Biden and the group of former Democratic presidential hopefuls who have now put their presidential dreams to rest were still sitting on some $70 million cash on hand at the end of last month.  At the same time, campaigns still owed more than $22 million in debts at the end of March. So, what will happen to all the cash? Turns out there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to closing up shop. 

Learn more about the different ways candidates can tie up their loose campaign change from CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice as the primary season comes to a close.

FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

At a virtual fundraiser this afternoon, presumptive Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden said he would be open to appointing a Republican to his Cabinet, according to a pool report. Biden said he didn’t have “any limitation on if someone were a Republican, if they’re the best qualified person to do it,” to serve in a Cabinet post. 

Biden also previewed a series of upcoming virtual policy speeches, described as “the equivalent of a university series of major speeches on subjects that we’re going to focus on from foreign policy to domestic policy that go beyond the COVID problem to try to make sure we don’t lose the essence of what got us in this race in the first place.”

Biden did not have any public events today, but his campaign announced a new senior-level hire, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports. Rufus Gifford, the former finance director for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, will serve as a deputy campaign manager. He’ll focus on areas where finance intersects with policy and political work and will also occasionally serve as a spokesperson for the campaign. 

Gifford is somewhat a celebrity himself – in Denmark. After President Obama appointed him ambassador to Denmark in 2013 he was offered a reality TV show about his work and home life with his husband. After he left Denmark in 2017, he ran for Congress in 2018 but lost in the Democratic primary to Representative Lori Trahan. CBS News has previously reported that several Democratic operatives looking for work inside the Biden campaign were told they were currently in a “hiring freeze.” 

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

The Trump campaign has released a new digital ad touting the president’s coronavirus response, according to CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. The video features a montage of praise for the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic, including Democrats Gavin Newsom, governor of California, and Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York. 

The five-figure ad buy is a departure from more recent attack ads targeting Biden’s relationship with China. Last week, Democratic governors asked the White House to help encourage Americans to adhere to local public safety guidelines. Facing political pressure to ease stay-at-home restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, asked Vice President Mike Pence for help reiterating the importance of stay-at-home orders, according to audio of the meeting obtained by CBS News Political Correspondent Ed O’Keefe

The Trump campaign is also testing a series of Facebook ads touting Hillary Clinton’s endorsement of Biden. According to Facebook’s ad library, the Trump team has placed 283 versions of the ad online, all for under $100 apiece. “There is no greater concentration of Democrat establishment than Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton together,” one ad reads.  

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, made his virtual Trump campaign trail debut, appearing on a digital livestream last night. McCarthy referred to the WHO as “the Wuhan Organization,” and COVID-19 as “a virus we did not invite, we did not welcome, coming from a distant land that lied to us.” 

In an apparent counter to the Biden campaign’s claim that President Trump failed to dispatch American experts to China, the House minority leader said, “President Trump requested that our scientists, our doctors go into China. We could have contained it right there in China, just like we did Ebola and everything else. But President Xi lied to the world.”

VEEPSTAKES

GRETCHEN WHITMER

Whitmer said in an interview that she is not comfortable being viewed through a partisan lens. She has been in the national spotlight for leading Michigan’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has drawn criticisms from President Trump reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman

“I was thrown into the national spotlight being, you know, criticized or attacked by the president of the United States,” Whitmer told the New York Times podcast, “The Daily.” “I didn’t ask for that. I did not like it. I didn’t sleep frankly, because I was worried that this would preclude my ability to get the help that I need for Michigan.” 

Based on statements from the president, Whitmer also said that she feared retribution that would have hindered her ability to help Michiganders during the pandemic. “I’ve bent over backwards to try to smooth that over not throwing, you know, punch back,” Whitmer said. “I would hate for anyone in Michigan, to not have the help they need because I’m not popular with the president for some reason.” 

She announced at a Wednesday briefing that she would sign an executive order that will re-open the construction industry, specifically residential and commercial industries, on May 7.

The Michigan governor also commented on negotiations with the Republican-controlled legislature on extending her emergency powers, which expire at the end of the month. According to an email exchange between Whitmer’s staff and Michigan Senate and House leadership staff, Republican legislators are proposing two one-week extensions of Whitmer’s emergency powers and a public agreement that future stay at home orders will require bipartisan legislative approval instead of executive orders. 

Whitmer said at her briefing that Republican legislators are treating the extension of her emergency powers as a “political problem,” stressing that Michigan will remain in a state of emergency. “I’m not going to engage in political negotiations with anybody,” Whitmer said. “We don’t have time for politics and games when people’s lives are on the line.”

LIFE AFTER 2020

ANDREW YANG

Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang filed a lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday against the New York State Board of Elections, says CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. The lawsuit comes one day after the board’s decision to effectively cancel the presidential primary. Joined by seven other New Yorkers who filed to serve as Yang delegates to the Democratic National Convention, the entrepreneur-turned-political candidate argued he met all of the necessary requirements and did not ask to be removed from New York State’s ballot. “This unprecedented and unwarranted move infringes the rights of Plaintiffs and all New York State Democratic Party voters, of which there are estimated to be more than six million, as it fundamentally denies them the right to choose our next candidate for the office of President of the United States,” the lawsuit reads in part.

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE HOUSE

In Ohio’s congressional primaries, incumbent Congresswoman Joyce Beatty had a convincing win over progressive upstart Morgan Harper, claiming the 3rd District with 68% of the vote. Harper previously served at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and was one of several candidates that progressive groups like Justice Democrats were hoping could beat incumbents and grow their ranks in the House. 

This was Beatty’s first primary challenge in eight years and she spent $2 million for her big win. Beatty also endorsed Biden the same night of her victory. In the state’s first district, Democrat Kate Schroeder won her primary and will face incumbent Republican Steve Chabot. 

In the special election for Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, Democrat Kweisi Mfume handily won the Baltimore area seat, formerly held by the late-Congressman Elijah Cummings. The win marks a return to Congress for Mfume, who previously held the seat before Cummings, from 1987 to 1996. A bit over 1,000 people ended up voting in person at the three open polling locations in the district, while the rest of the ballots came by mail, says CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro.

DECLARING INDEPENDENCE

Michigan Congressman Justin Amash unveiled his exploratory committee for a third-party presidential bid late Tuesday night. Amash tweeted, “We’re ready for a presidency that will restore respect for our Constitution and bring people together. I’m excited and honored to be taking these first steps toward serving Americans of every background as president.” 

The congressman dropped his Republican affiliation and became an independent last summer and voted against Trump on one of the impeachment articles. He’ll be seeking the Libertarian Party nomination and is still eligible to win the nod, since the party’s delegates are not bound. 

“The race is still wide open,” Libertarian Party Executive Director Dan Fishman told CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro, adding that due to the pandemic there is still no clear plan for when and how the party’s nominating convention will occur. 

On MSNBC, Amash was grilled about whether his potential third-party presidential bid could help Trump win re-election. In response, Amash said he serves as an option for millions of other Americans that don’t identify with the values of either party. 

“There are millions of Americans who aren’t represented by either Donald Trump or Joe Biden…And those millions of Americans deserve a choice on the ballot and it’s pretty silly to say, ‘Well we shouldn’t allow another candidate to be on the ballot, we just want to have these two candidates,'” he said. 

Amash has represented Michigan’s 3rd District since 2010 and has until July 16 to file for the seat as an independent. Republican and Democratic challengers immediately reacted after his announcement. Democrat Hillary Scholten tweeted that Amash “has left a vacuum in this toss-up district that will either be filled by a pro-Trump extremist, or me–a proven leader.” 

Republican Peter Meijer, who leads all challengers in fundraising, said in a statement, “Our campaign has always been about serving West Michigan, and nothing will change our mission.” The state’s Congressional primaries take place August 4. Trump weighed in on Twitter Wednesday, saying Amash “would make a wonderful candidate, especially since he is way behind in his district and has no chance of maintaining his Congressional seat. He almost always votes for the Do Nothing Dems anyway. I like him even more than Jill Stein!”

POLLING THE ROOM

INFO OVERLOAD

Pew Research has published new survey results centered on news coverage and disinformation ahead of the 2020 Election, reports CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. According to the poll, more than half of adults in the United States (56%) say national news outlets are a major source of coronavirus news.

Just three-in-ten adults (31%) say the same for President Trump and his Coronavirus Task Force briefings. Meanwhile, just 5% say Biden and his campaign are a major source of news. Americans have suggested a familiarity with basic tenets of the CARES Act, signed into law by the President, last month. Roughly half of Americans (51%) identify the total cost of the aid package as $2 trillion or $2.5 trillion, while 91% know the bill includes $1,200 stipends for American adults, and 64% know the measure bolstered unemployment benefits.

STATE-BY-STATE

KANSAS

The Kansas Democratic Party, which moved its primary to completely vote-by-mail, announced that it has processed over 138,000 primary ballots, reports CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar. The turnout so far is more than triple the voter turnout seen in the 2016 presidential primary caucuses in Kansas. “It is very exciting to see such a significant increase in voter turnout for the 2020 presidential primary and is a testament to the Democratic enthusiasm building among Kansas voters for the last three years,” said Kansas Democratic Party Cahir Vicki Hiatt in a statement. Hiatt added that the turnout results in Kansas “makes us the most recent state to prove vote-by-mail is a safe, secure and accessible way to run an election during a global health crisis.” 

Earlier this month, the KDP said it had sent out more than 370,000 ballots to registered Democrats in the state. And while Biden is the presumptive nominee, all formally filed candidates are on the ballot and voters can still choose to vote their preference on their ranked-choice ballots. Any candidate that reaches the 15% viability will be awarded Kansas delegates. Saturday, May 2, is the receipt deadline for all mail-in ballots in Kansas.

NORTH CAROLINA

North Carolina House Representatives discussed a new bill that would expand Medicaid in North Carolina during a press call Wednesday afternoon. CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell notes North Carolina is one of 14 states that has not expanded Medicaid, leaving thousands uninsured who would otherwise be covered under Medicaid, according to 2018 data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The North Carolina Justice Center reported last January that the state’s 10.7% uninsured rate — the 10th highest in the nation at the time — made North Carolina less competitive in vying for future employers. During the press call Wednesday, the state lawmakers reiterated the importance of expanding Medicaid in an effort to improve the quality of life for North Carolinians who are particularly vulnerable even when the country isn’t facing a public health crisis. “We’re talking about people who are working, who don’t have insurance, they’re not insured, their jobs don’t provide insurance for them. They’re on the front line, they have families to support. They have to pick—even though they are working—between buying groceries and medication, paying a mortgage or rent or going to the doctor,” said state Representative Jean Farmer-Butterfield. “We’re talking about people…who are tax-burdened without Medicaid expansion and indeed, the quality of their lives is not what it should be…” state Representative James Gailliard added that the COVID-19 outbreak is forcing lawmakers to face this reality: “We have a responsibility to make sure everyone around us has proper access to health care because by keeping one person healthy, we’re really keeping everybody healthy.”

OHIO

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper thanked Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and the Ohio legislature for extending the vote-by-mail primary, but noted that some changes with voting need to be implemented, reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman.

Pepper said in a press call Wednesday afternoon that there was some confusion around casting a provisional ballot with some “inconsistent information between directives and posters that were sent out.” He said that some voters in some counties were able to cast provisional ballots, while others in different counties were turned away. 

“That type of rule, that type of directive, that – the following the basic law has to be consistent around the state,” Pepper said. “That needs to be fixed for November, whatever the shape of the election.” Pepper also acknowledged that reforms need to be discussed between the legislature and the secretary of state’s office to transition to a more effective vote-by-mail system if needed. One of the reforms suggested is eliminating the application and sending ballots to registered voters with pre-paid postage to return the ballots. 

“The current vote-by-mail process was designed for a vote-by-mail only as an option and as an option that people assumed would actually not be done by even a majority of voters,” Pepper said. “If we are going to have only vote by mail, I think it clearly, with that, comes the need for reforms to adjust to an only vote-by-mail election.” 

Even with the challenges of transitioning to a vote-by-mail primary, Pepper said Democratic voter turnout surpassed 2012 turnout among Democratic primary voters. Over 860,000 ballots were cast in the 2020 Democratic primary according to unofficial results posted on the secretary of state’s website. That number is expected to increase as more mail-in ballots  that are postmarked before or by April 27 are received. “I think it shows an underlying level of Democratic enthusiasm, even amid all these challenges,” Pepper said.

In a statement, voting rights advocates expressed disdain towards the state legislature for not providing county boards of elections and voters enough time to transition to a vote-by-mail primary. Camille Wimbish, the election administration director for Ohio Voice and Ohio Voter Rights Coalition coordinator, said that Ohioans had to make an “impossible and unnecessary choice” between choosing to vote or protecting their health. “Elections are about people coming together to choose who gets to be in power,” Wimbish said in a statement. “By throwing an election into dangerous chaos, the legislature effectively did the inverse: It chose which Ohioans could, and which could not, vote for their leaders.”



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