President-elect Joe Biden’s team is appealing to its high-dollar donors to help raise millions of dollars more for his presidential transition, amid concerns the Trump administration will continue to block public funding.
The General Services Administration must “ascertain” that Biden won the election before the federal government will release roughly $10 million in funds to which the transition is legally entitled. GSA Administrator Emily Murphy, a Trump appointee, has thus far refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory, despite the fact that news outlets called the race 12 days ago.
So far, the transition has raised more than $8 million, according to three people familiar with the total, hitting their initial $7 million to $10 million goal. Now they’re upping it by “several millions of dollars in anticipation of GSA not relenting before the inauguration,” said one person familiar with the transition efforts.
The funding is expected to help cover the costs associated with the bureaucratic handover, including the hundreds of aides who have already been hired to staff the transition and its agency review teams, who are a mix of paid staffers and volunteers.
A half-dozen Democratic donors, bundlers and others familiar with the transition’s fundraising efforts, granted anonymity to speak candidly about private meetings, described a palpable shift in urgency in recent days, driven by what they described as the increasing likelihood that President Donald Trump wouldn’t relinquish the money before he leaves office in January, as well as the multiple crises facing the incoming administration.
“There’s definitely been an uptick in their urgency, and their main argument, their main pitch to donors is to make up for the [GSA] shortfall,” said one Democratic bundler.
Another person familiar with the transition’s fundraising efforts said the Biden team had anticipated before the election that the Trump administration might hold up the release of federal funds if Biden won.
“If he doesn’t give us the money that the law requires, we’ll raise it,” the person said.
In an email to some donors on Monday night, obtained by POLITICO, Chris Korge, the Democratic National Committee’s national finance chair, warned the Biden team had “still not received the money we need to totally fund the Biden-Harris transition because President Trump has stopped GSA from giving our Transition effort over $8 million dollars in cash and in-kind contributions.”
“Quite frankly this is just flat out WRONG and the American people will be the big losers if we don’t immediately step up and do something about it,” Korge continued. “We need to raise the rest of the money we need before Thanksgiving so we can just totally focus on the transition and not fundraising for it.”
“The Biden-Harris transition has been planning for months for all possible scenarios,” a transition official said in a statement. “While we wait for the GSA Administrator to uphold the will of the people and be a proper steward of taxpayer resources, we will execute on contingency plans, including continuing to solicit private funds to support transition planning.”
The Trump administration has broken transition norms in unprecedented ways, from failing to publicly concede the race to blocking federal agency staff from briefing Biden campaign officials. That silence could stretch into December, POLITICO has previously reported, hampering the incoming administration on several fronts.
It’s not clear how long the Trump administration will refuse to admit that Biden won the election and delay the release of federal funds. The closest parallel is when the GSA declined to ascertain who won the 2000 election until December following the Florida recount.
The Presidential Transition Act doesn’t necessarily require Trump to release the money even after the Electoral College meets if the GSA hasn’t ascertained a winner. “If he doesn’t want that money to go out and he doesn’t want the executive branch to cooperate, I think he can stop it,” said Paul Light, a New York University professor of public service who testified before Congress on the matter in 2000 and urged lawmakers to clear up the ambiguity in the law.
It’s not yet clear whether the GSA, which has so far refused to start the transition process, can continue to hold its position, particularly after Electoral College electors are chosen and meet in mid-December to certify the results of the 2020 election.
“As it grinds on toward certification, it seems unlikely that Biden would have to resort to legal action” to gain access to the GSA funds because, “I can’t imagine that the administrator would have any basis for continuing this,” said Joe Sandler, a former general counsel to the Democratic National Committee. But, Sandler noted, “there is no legal precedent for this.”
The transition’s fundraising team also hosted several Zoom fundraisers this week featuring Korge as well as Evan Ryan, a former assistant secretary of State during the Obama administration who has spearheaded much of the transition fundraising effort, and Marcus Switzer, a Democratic fundraiser who was hired to help with transition fundraising.
“[The transition] has no doubt ramped up their efforts to boost fundraising on the transition because they don’t have a choice,” said one Chicago-based bundler. “While the federal government won’t release the funds, there’s a whole new round of calls going out now to donors.”
If the Biden team reaches its new fundraising goal, it will be one of the best-funded transition efforts to date — at least when it comes to private fundraising. In 2016, Trump raised $6.5 million before he assumed the presidency. Hillary Clinton, who would’ve taken over from a fellow Democrat, raised just $2.1 million. Mitt Romney raised $8.9 million in 2012, part of what was widely considered one of the most organized transition efforts to date.
Biden’s transition team started fundraising in June, as Biden officials anticipated a potentially fraught handoff from the Trump administration. The Biden transition raised money discreetly during the campaign, with donors and Biden officials trying to avoid the appearance of presumptuousness, but both parties typically raise private funds to complement the public financing provided for the governmental changeover.
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