BY JONATHAN EASLEY – 12/01/16 THE HILL
Democratic donors stung by Hillary Clinton’s upset loss in the presidential race feel like they just set their money on fire.
The sore feelings are a huge problem for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which is trying to rebuild its image and reinvigorate a defeated party in time for challenging midterm elections in 2018.
It’s also a worry for top liberal activists as they prepare for war with President-elect Donald Trump and a GOP Congress that is hell-bent on rolling back President Obama’s accomplishments.
Many Democratic donors still feel burned by the party’s 2016 election losses and what they see as dysfunction in the DNC, which will elect a new leader in February.
Adding insult to the injury: The names of many donors were released in the WikiLeaks hack of Democratic emails, believed to have come at the hands of Russian intelligence. It was a mortifying development that has rattled some of the party’s big-money men and women.
“They’re tired,” one DNC official told The Hill. “They’re upset about the election, and there was significant trauma surrounding the Russians. They’re upset and they’re tired.”
Democratic investors went in on Clinton to the tune of more than $550 million, believing she would dispatch Trump, deliver Democrats the Senate and help the party make inroads into the GOP’s House majority.
Many liberal donors also viewed the election as an opportunity to cement Obama’s legacy.
Instead, Democrats find themselves in the throes of a full-scale and expensive rebuilding project punctuated by a rudderless DNC that won’t elect a new leader until more than a month after Trump is sworn into office.
Investor Marc Nathanson, who spent big in 2016, says he has no interest in participating in the party’s rebuilding efforts.
Nathanson, who was one of Clinton’s top donors and fundraisers in 2016, told The Hill he’d continue to give money and support to Democratic candidates in gubernatorial and mayoral races in his home state of California. But beyond that, the frustration over the party’s 2016 debacle will keep him on the sidelines.
“The feeling I get from big donors out here in California is that they’re not only extremely disappointed, but they’re shell-shocked,” he said. “So to turn around and say, now it’s time to rebuild the national party and the DNC, I just don’t see it.”
Some Democrats believe the fundraising panic is being overblown, arguing that in Trump, the party has a fearsome boogeyman that will keep horrified donors in a giving mood.
They’re optimistic that jilted donors will change their tune once the DNC elects a new leader and as the midterm elections near. Democrats face a daunting map in 2018, when they’ll be defending 25 of the 46 seats they currently hold in the Senate. A filibuster-proof majority is within reach for Republicans.
But even those events won’t be enough to get some angry donors back in the game.
“I may very well be done with political giving entirely,” said John Morgan, an Orlando attorney and one of Clinton’s top fundraisers in Florida. “My message to anyone reading this is, ‘Don’t call me, I’ll call you.’ From here on out, I’m giving to charities. I’d much rather give money to build a new Boys & Girls Club than to give to the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee].”
Outside of the DNC and its congressional campaign arms, top liberal fundraisers are painting a rosier picture of donors who have been jolted into action by November’s stunning results.
Gara LaMarche, the president of Democracy Alliance, the influential network of donors who invest in groups to push progressive policies, has been touring the nation’s liberal donor hubs — Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston, among them — to discuss the progressive movement’s way forward with top donors.
A Nov. 14 donor event in Washington, D.C., which drew liberal donor George Soros, was notable for its “bigger than expected turnout.”
LaMarche said donor lethargy can be expected among those who gave to the campaign, the pro-Clinton super PACs, or in electing a Democratic Congress.
“On the political side I think is where we’ll see some of the donor fatigue,” LaMarche said. “There is deep frustration with the Democratic Party and the political consultant class among the donors who put a lot of money into the electoral efforts, who don’t feel their money was spent well. They want to know what went wrong. But there is also an emergency response to protecting policies, whether it’s abortion or EPA regulations or ObamaCare, that is mobilizing and energizing the wider set of progressive donors.”
Those sentiments were echoed by David Brock, the liberal political operative whose umbrella of groups include the opposition research firm American Bridge and the watchdog group Media Matters for America.
Brock has invited 225 current donors and 175 prospective donors to a meeting in Palm Beach, Fla., over Trump’s inaugural weekend, as he seeks to fund a web of liberal groups he hopes will rival the Koch brothers’ network of influence on the right.
Brock is looking to super-charge his group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, in hopes it will rival the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.
Judicial Watch had a huge impact on the 2016 elections, using judicial and regulatory channels to maintain a steady flow of email-related problems that bedeviled Clinton.
Brock is also looking to build out his emerging social media platform, Share Blue, which he hopes will be the left’s answer to “the Breitbart phenomenon.”
“I was at Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, and there were a number of donors present,” Brock said. “Some came up to me and said some version of, ‘We’ll continue to fight; tell us what to do.’ That has gotten me very quickly into a rebuilding mode. It was encouraging and surprising because so many were in shock. A lot still are.”