With travel halted due to the coronavirus pandemic, one element of campaigning for Joe Biden may be simpler than ever: fundraising.
The presumptive Democratic nominee has held at least 20 big-money virtual fundraisers in the 42 days between March 20 and May 1, according to a tally by CBS News of pool fundraiser reports from the rotating journalists granted access by the campaign to each virtual event.
By the end of this week, Biden is scheduled to attend at least three more additional fundraisers, as well.
Unlike some of his progressive primary rivals who railed against private fundraisers, Biden, since the beginning of his campaign, has relied on in-person “finance events” to help fuel his presidential ambition.
Instead of strolling into swanky living rooms and elite board rooms across the country, fundraising “trips” for Biden now require no travel. His sporadic interviews and fundraising events are all campaign productions, broadcast from Biden’s makeshift basement studio.
For the right price, Biden now greets donors on Zoom video conferences in their own living rooms, kitchens and porches. From hundreds of tiny Zoom video conferencing boxes, some attendees can be seen attired in suits, while others opt for sweatshirts. One donor was even spotted on a treadmill. Wine glasses are frequently visible.
“Fundraising sucks. It’s always hard, and if you’re looking for an excuse, a global pandemic is a good one,” one virtual fundraiser host told CBS News, “But no question, it is infinitely easier to participate in these [virtual fundraisers]. You don’t have to drive, and people would rather give money to not go to an event.”
As the campaign continues to refine the Biden basement broadcast and messaging strategy, the fundraisers, too, are showing differences in range, size, theme and glamor.
After sitting Friday morning for his first interview regarding the Tara Reade sexual assault allegations, which Biden denied, Biden attended the largest and one of the campaign’s most lucrative fundraisers later that evening as at least 2,200 Obama-Biden administration alumni gathered to contribute more than $1 million dollars to the campaign. The most intimate recent finance event featured Senator Kamala Harris and brought together 52 donors and $150,000, according to the fundraiser pool report.
Altogether, the 20 pandemic-era finance events have brought together at least 5,205 donors and supporters, according to the fundraiser pool reports. During this time, Dr. Jill Biden has hosted at least three fundraisers, too.
Multiple fundraiser invitations shared with CBS News show the price of admission usually ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars donated or “raised,” meaning the attendees will bring in a certain sum of money from their network.
Senator Amy Klobuchar is set to host a finance gathering on Tuesday, May 5, an event CBS News was told has already grossed $1.5 million dollars, which appears to be the largest one-night Biden fundraiser yet. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will host a “fireside chat” version on May 6, according to the invite.
And now that the Biden campaign has signed a joint-fundraising agreement with the Democratic National Committee it appears top-shelf fundraiser access to Biden has skyrocketed to $100,000 to be designated as a “co-chair” for the virtual finance event on May 8 with Biden, California Governor Gavin Newsom and former Obama alum David Plouffe, according to the invitation obtained by CBS News.
Several hosts of the virtual fundraisers described to CBS News a “democratization” of the high-dollar events where donors do not need to crowd to the front of the room to be within handshake distance of Biden. These hosts also offered that Democrats in states where Biden would not usually travel for fundraisers due to their geographical distance or deep-red political nature are now welcomed with open arms (and wallets) into these virtual events.
“I was surprised how warm and personal Joe was able to make a virtual event feel as compared to an in-person event,” former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles told CBS News about his North Carolina “virtual fireside chat” with Biden in April. “I was also delighted how responsive potential supporters were to the opportunity to attend and contribute at virtual event versus an in person event.”
Bowles added that his fundraiser raised three times its goal in a 10-day period, “so the enthusiasm of potential contributors to the candidacy of the vice president was off the charts.”
And while interest may be up at some events, overhead costs are down, since usual fundraising stalwarts like large backyard tents and overflowing shrimp cocktail platters are now unnecessary.
These are savings that Biden’s team is embracing, as it faces a Republican operation with more than $240 million cash on hand to re-elect President Donald Trump.
In just the past few weeks, the virtual events brought together celebrities, business leaders and well-known politicians. One Biden financial official told CBS News that the campaign’s foray into a concert-style fundraiser, featuring Billy Porter, Melissa Etheridge and Kristin Chenoweth singing a Joe Biden-themed version of “Popular,” was a success because it showed how lively a socially-distant event could be. It also brought in $1.1 million dollars.
Cosmetics titan Bobbi Brown, Microsoft CEO Brad Smith, and philanthropist Susie Buffet are just a few of the other recent high-profile hosts. Pete Buttigieg, Senator Cory Booker, and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates have also hosted.
Sarah Ewall-Wice contributed to this report.