As Biden weighs 2016 bid, donors so far stick by Clinton

MINNEAPOLIS: As US Vice President Joe Biden considers jumping into the 2016 White House race, the Democratic donor class appears relatively united in its support of front-runner Hillary Clinton.

"I like Joe Biden very much, but it's time to line up for Hillary and we are lining up," said Karin Birkeland, a top Democratic bundler for President Barack Obama in 2012 who recently committed to Clinton. "She has by far the best resume, she's ready, she's younger and she's a woman."

Another Democratic bundler who raised $500,000 for Obama in 2012 and who recently decided on Clinton, was blunter. "Joe Biden's ship has passed," said the donor, who asked not be named due to his respect for the vice president.

Biden's inner circle has been working vigorously to reach out to undecided donors, according to sources close to the Draft Biden Super PAC. A meeting with potential donors is set to occur after Labor Day.

On Monday and Tuesday, Reuters interviewed 13 political activists who are among the Democratic Party's top donors and bundlers. As recently as February, when initially contacted by Reuters, seven of them were undecided, though all have since thrown their support - and fundraising machines - behind Clinton.

Clinton's continued donor support comes as the controversy surrounding her use when she was Obama's secretary of State of a private email account, which operated outside the bounds of the government's technology security, has deepened. The FBI is now probing whether the system put classified information at risk. Though Clinton, 67, remains the front runner, ahead of insurgent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, her poll numbers have slipped.

The nominating contests start next February, ahead of the presidential general election in November 2016.

Political pundits and consultants argue that a Biden run could further complicate the picture for Clinton, providing an alternative for the party’s establishment wing in the form of a tested statesman who, at 72, many consider the Democratic Party's eminence grise.

But while all of those interviewed by Reuters expressed respect for Biden, and said they felt deeply empathetic about the recent loss of his son Beau, 46, to brain cancer, none indicated that a Biden run would cause them to switch allegiances. What's more, Biden has never been a politician known for his fundraising prowess - and many experts predicted he would struggle at this late stage to build, virtually from scratch, a fundraising machine, especially since Clinton has had so much of the money locked up since last winter.

Even so, a billionaire, or wealthy mega donor, could pour money into a Super PAC, solving Biden's fundraising weakness overnight. Since 2010, when the Supreme Court made a decision allowing outside spending groups, known as Super PACs, to accept unfettered sums, a wealthy donor can single-handedly propel a candidacy for as long as he or she is willing to fund it.

"Joe Biden - he's one of the most beloved political figures in America, on both sides of the aisle," said John Morgan, a Lake Mary, Florida, lawyer who raised $1.7 million for Obama in 2012 and who, in May, raised $1 million for Clinton. "I don't think he can beat her. But he can make her better. He can mettle-test her."

Federal campaign finance filings reveal that Clinton's fundraising efforts have brought in nearly $70 million so far, putting her at second place in the presidential money race behind Republican Jeb Bush, who has raked in a record-setting $120 million.

About $20 million of Clinton's money comes from PACs affiliated with her campaign, including a Super PAC that has received $1 million contributions from such luminaries as investor George Soros, Hollywood filmmaker Steven Spielberg and philanthropist and finance executive Herbert Sandler.

So far, no mega donor has emerged to back Biden, though none of the donors thought that was a reason for him to sit out the race.

"At this point, what else is his life for?" said Morgan. "What else can Joe Biden do? He can run for Beau."