Big money, fancy homes, old jokes — inside Joe Biden’s fundraisers

Dec 8, 2023, 10:40 PM

FILE - A marquee promoting a fundraiser with President Joe Biden is on display outside the Lunt-Fon...

FILE - A marquee promoting a fundraiser with President Joe Biden is on display outside the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York, Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. With an election year around the corner, Biden is accelerating his fundraising to prepare for an astronomically expensive campaign. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — If you’re a Democrat with money to burn and friends in high places, you can spend thousands on tickets to a fundraiser with President Joe Biden. If not, keep reading to see what you’re missing.

With an election year around the corner, Biden is accelerating his fundraising to prepare for an astronomically expensive campaign. (Think billions, not millions.) In this rarefied world, money equals access, and supporters regularly pay top dollar for a personal glimpse of the world’s most powerful man.

Biden is collecting cash across the Los Angeles area this weekend, and his first stop was a sprawling estate where the host joked “it’s just a normal Friday at our house” as hundreds of donors sipped wine in the backyard.

“You’re the reason why we’re gonna win, God willing, in 2024,” Biden told the audience.

Each fundraiser is a little different, but they generally follow a similar script. Here’s what it’s like inside the presidential money hunt.

The setting

Fundraisers are a rare glimpse at the lives of the country’s wealthiest and most influential. Biden’s motorcade has rolled up to a mountain villa in Park City, Utah, a townhouse in Manhattan and a sprawling estate at the top of the Hollywood hills.

In an apartment with floor-to-ceiling views of Central Park, reporters were required to slip disposable covers over their shoes before they could enter the living room where donors nibbled on crustless tea sandwiches.

At Friday’s fundraiser in Los Angeles, attendees wore colored wrist bands that indicated where they should sit. Ushers held up red, green, blue and orange signs to direct them to the right place.

The press corps can enter fundraisers only to hear Biden’s formal remarks, and no cameras are allowed. When he’s mingling with supporters or answering their questions, reporters are sequestered in a garage, home gym or spare bedroom. Sometimes they just remain outside on the sidewalk.

The introduction

The lucky host often gets the privilege of introducing the president. Usually, these remarks are predictably laudatory, but sometimes they get spicy.

Randi McGinn, a prominent New Mexico lawyer, joked about the attractiveness of the president’s Secret Service detail and referenced Donald Trump’s dalliance with a porn star.

Biden smiled — or grimaced, it was hard to tell — and made the sign of the cross as she spoke.

The president always thanks his hosts and any elected officials present. If he spots any children, Biden often jokingly warns them “this is going to be boring, boring, boring for you.”

The unexpected

Although fundraisers are often run-of-the-mill occasions, careful reporters know to stay attentive. Biden has a history of being more candid than usual when surrounded by deep-pocketed supporters.

Biden upset China in June by describing President Xi Jinping as a “dictator” during a different fundraiser in California. He also said Xi was unaware that a Chinese balloon that floated over the United States was being used for spying.

“The reason why Xi Jinping got very upset in terms of when I shot that balloon down with two box cars full of spy equipment is he didn’t know it was there,” Biden said.

In Park City in August, Biden ruminated about his signature legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act.

“I wish I hadn’t called it that,” Biden said, “because it has less to do with reducing inflation than it does to do with dealing with providing for alternatives that generate economic growth.”

And just Tuesday in Weston, Massachusetts, the 81-year-old president suggested he might not be seeking reelection if it wasn’t for Trump’s comeback bid.

“If Trump wasn’t running, I’m not sure I’d be running,” Biden said. “But we cannot let him win, for the sake of the country.”

The stories

Donors pay top dollar to hear Biden speak at private events, but reporters can rattle off some of his well-worn lines from memory.

The president says he’s “never been more optimistic” about the country as long as we “remember who in hell we are.” He rattles off his legislative accomplishments, from limiting prescription drug costs to investing in infrastructure like roads and bridges. He says the rich need to “pay their fair share” of taxes. He warns that the U.S. is at “an inflection point.”

He usually talks about meeting with Xi while they each served as vice presidents of their respective countries. In Biden’s telling, Xi asked him to define America. “I said, ‘I can do it in one word — possibilities,’” Biden says.

A centerpiece of Biden’s fundraisers is his story of deciding to run for president against Trump in 2020.

He talks about “people coming out of the woods, carrying torches” during the 2017 marches in Charlottesville, Virginia, and “chanting the same antisemitic bile that was chanted in Germany in the ’30s.” When Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides” of the violence, Biden says, “that’s when I decided I couldn’t remain silent any longer.”

The attacks

Fundraisers are an opportunity for Biden to rile up his supporters and score points on his opponents in a friendly environment.

He often says “this is not your father’s Republican Party,” and he warns about “the extreme right, the MAGA movement,” referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

Sometimes he avoids mentioning Trump’s name by making oblique references to “my predecessor.” But given Trump’s standing as the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination, Biden has seen little reason to hold back.

He generally warns about the potential for cuts to health care or rollbacks to environmental programs if Trump wins next year. And he always keeps the focus on what he describes as a threat to the country’s institutions.

“Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans,” Biden said in Minneapolis last month, “are determined to destroy this democracy.”


Megerian reported from Washington.

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Big money, fancy homes, old jokes — inside Joe Biden’s fundraisers