Biden Camp Limits Journalist Access To High-Dollar Wall Street Fundraiser

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign removed the press from a fundraising call with Wall Street donors on Thursday shortly before the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee began taking questions from those on the line.

It was the first time Biden has limited media access to a virtual high-dollar fundraiser, Bloomberg News noted, and it drew criticism from reporters covering his campaign who said it went against his pledge of transparency.

“This pool report was written based just on his opening remarks because your pooler was quickly kicked off the phone call when Biden said he was ready to take questions from any of the 25 donors present, a move that goes against traditionally covering these pooled fundraisers in their entirety,” NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor, the reporter representing news organizations who covered the event, wrote. “Also, reporters heard Biden over the phone, not through Zoom as has been common practice in the virtual campaign era.”

The event was hosted by the heads of three investment banking firms: Roger Altman of Evercore, Blair Effron of Centerview Partners and Deven Parekh of Insight Partners.

Biden said last year that he would open all of his big-donor fundraisers to the media, and his campaign team said at the time that the move reflected a “commitment to transparency.”

His campaign said Thursday’s fundraiser featured a “new format” when asked why reporters weren’t allowed to listen in to the question-and-answer portion, signaling Biden might limit press access in the future to court big-ticket donors. The campaign did not reply to HuffPost’s requests for a transcript of the questions or a list of those who attended the fundraiser.

“Tonight’s event was a new format as we enter a new phase of the general election campaign,” Rufus Gifford, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, said in a statement. “But we will continue to ensure press access to our virtual finance events as part of our campaign’s commitment to transparency ― one that vastly exceeds anything that Donald Trump and his campaign have offered the American people.”

Reporters were able to listen to Biden’s opening remarks, during which he addressed what he called “anxious times” and lambasted Trump’s leadership throughout the pandemic that has infected more than 1.5 million people in the U.S.

“You know when Trump ran in 2016, he promised to stand up for the ‘forgotten man,’” Biden said. “As soon as he got elected, he sure as hell forgot them quick enough. Now we’re seeing the telltale signs of Trump-o-nomics in the way that he’s implemented this stimulus. No strings, no oversight, no [inspector general], no accountability, and is setting up what I would call a corrupt recovery.”

Trump does not usually allow reporters to report on his own fundraisers, but many in the Democratic race had pledged to open up their own fundraisers during the 2020 election cycle.

Biden has been aggressively fundraising since Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ended his own Democratic presidential bid, seeking to build a war chest to counter the sizable fundraising arm wielded by Trump. The former vice president raised more than $60 million in April with the Democratic National Committee.

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Joe Biden Says Michelle Obama Isn’t Interested in Being VP but He’d Pick Her ‘in a Heartbeat’

Earlier this year, Mrs. Obama told Oprah Winfrey that the White House brought her self-doubt and that she found it difficult to read how others felt about her while she was the first lady.

“It’s like I lived in the cocoon of the White House for eight years,” she said then.

But she hasn’t left activism behind. While she focused on children’s health and physical activity while first lady, she has since worked on girls’ education worldwide and voting rights.

On Monday, Mrs. Obama joined Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson in campaigning for broader mail-in voting capabilities, and she has criticized its lack of use in some states while people had to vote in person in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Voting should never, ever be difficult and it should never be a partisan issue,” she said during Monday night’s virtual When We All Vote #CouchParty with Hanks and Wilson.

“This pandemic, this crisis that we’re facing is proving that measures like vote by mail, early, in-person voting and online voter registration are not only long overdue, they are essential for the future of this democracy,” she added.

Last week, 58-year-old President Obama endorsed Biden in the 2020 election.

“Choosing Joe to be my vice president was one of the best decisions I ever made,” he said in a video. “And [Biden] became a close friend. And I believe Joe has all the qualities we need in a president right now.”

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Before coronavirus hit, Joe Biden raked in campaign cash in March

Will coronavirus crisis give Biden the upper hand in November?

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Joe Biden raked in about $33 million in the first half of March as he barreled toward the Democratic presidential nomination. Then the nation largely shut down due to the spread of the coronavirus, and his fundraising rate slowed by half.

The former vice president raised $46.7 million over the full month, newly filed Federal Election Commission reports show. It was the best fundraising month of Mr. Biden's campaign, but he still faces a cash disadvantage compared with President Trump's financial juggernaut.

Combined, Mr. Trump's re-election team, which includes the Republican National Committee and affiliated fundraising committees, raised $63 million in March and had $244 million in the bank as of the beginning of this month. Mr. Biden and the Democratic National Committee collectively had about $57 million in cash on hand, after accounting for the DNC's $5 million in debts.


More than half of the DNC's $32.7 million March haul came from an $18 million transfer from the campaign of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The March FEC reports give a finance-focused snapshot of how political campaigns are operating amid a national emergency that has suspended much of American life. As many states urged residents to stay home beginning in mid-March, Messrs. Biden and Trump, like most politicians, stopped in-person fundraising events. At the same time, many people who give smaller amounts online likely grew worried about losing their jobs.

Despite the second-half slowdown, Mr. Biden was buoyed by his rapid climb toward the Democratic nomination in early March. He racked up wins in a series of states that voted on March 3, known as Super Tuesday, and had amassed a sizable delegate lead by midmonth, when states began delaying primaries due to the virus.

After stay-at-home orders took hold across large swaths of the country, the Biden campaign invested in expanding its remote outreach capabilities as politics shifted online and on television. The campaign has held nine "virtual" fundraisers via the Zoom platform, which enables him to appear by video in larger donors' homes. Many of them were held in April and weren't reflected in the latest FEC filing. His campaign spent $461.67 on Zoom last month, the report shows.

The campaign spent more than $2.5 million on direct mail, nearly triple what it spent in February. It also put nearly $240,000 into audiovisual services, an increase from the month before, and paid $283,000 to Upland Software Inc., a company specializing in cloud-based collaboration software for businesses.

"We're going to keep innovating and experimenting with new ways of communicating to grow our community of supporters online," Mr. Biden said during a virtual fundraiser this month. "Now, it's a different way of campaigning, we've never had to do it before."


William Singer, a Chicago attorney who is helping to raise money for a virtual Biden fundraiser on April 27 hosted by former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, said he expects to meet his goal of securing 36 donors, each giving $2,800 to join the Zoom gathering.

"I have never had a more enthusiastic response to any fundraiser for any candidate at any time," he said. "I think people realize this is not a time to think of personal benefits, like getting a picture, or a handshake, or a hug. They just want a way to participate."

Mr. Biden has been getting fundraising help from his former primary rivals.

About 52 people attended an April 8 Zoom fundraiser featuring California Sen. Kamala Harris. Co-hosts John Emerson, former U.S. ambassador to Germany, and Kimberly Marteau Emerson, a consultant, said the event raised more than $150,000, meaning each donor was contributing about the maximum legal amount for the election.

During a virtual fundraiser last week, Mr. Biden said his campaign had raised more than $5 million in the two previous days, which he attributed partly to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another former rival for the 2020 nomination, sending a plea on his behalf to her donor list.


While Mr. Trump hasn't appeared at any virtual fundraisers, his top campaign surrogates have been live streaming nearly every night. During those events, the campaign asks viewers to text with their information, and follow-up messages lead to online fundraising requests.

The campaign also continues to pour millions each month into Facebook, Google and other online advertising geared toward raising money.

The campaign-finance reports filed Monday captured the final stages of the Democratic primary as Mr. Biden gained steam and his rivals faded.

Mr. Bloomberg tried an unusual strategy of staking his candidacy on a strong showing in the Super Tuesday states, after skipping the earlier contests. It didn't pay off. The new filings show he spent more than $1 billion total, including $176 million in March, on what was the most expensive self-financed political campaign in history.

Sen. Warren raised about $5 million in March and finished the month with $4.5 million in cash and about $1.3 million in debt. She ended her bid shortly after Super Tuesday.


Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was the last person to leave the race. He raised almost $33 million in March before stopping his campaign activities, including fundraising, midway through the month. He officially ended his campaign and endorsed Mr. Biden earlier this month.

With the nomination in hand, Democratic super PACs are lining up to help Mr. Biden. His campaign recently praised Priorities USA, which was founded in 2011 to help then-President Obama's re-election effort. That group raised about $4 million in March and had $21 million in the bank as the month ended.


Another pro-Biden super PAC, Unite the Country, raised more than $10 million in March, thanks to a $3 million donation from hedge fund co-founder James Simons and $2 million from Maryland hotelier Stewart Bainum.

Mr. Trump also benefits from outside groups. The one his campaign has openly embraced, America First Action, raised $9.4 million through the first quarter of the year and had $25.4 million on hand to start this month.

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‘Diamond’ Joe Gutnick’s company insolvent after ‘dishonest’ transactions

The Federal Court has ordered that a company associated with Melbourne business figure "Diamond" Joe Gutnick be wound up and declared insolvent amid allegations of millions of dollars of dishonest related party transactions.

The Federal Court on Wednesday appointed liquidators to the publicly traded mining company Merlin Diamonds Limited after a provisional liquidators' report showed it had just $1331 in the bank and liabilities of $13 million.

Joe Gutnick appearing at the Federal Court in Melbourne in 2017.Credit:Jason South

Judge Michael O'Bryan said a liquidator would allow for investigations into a number of inter-company loans, related party transactions and "round robin" payments that "have the appearance of uncommercial and dishonest transactions".

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission's had requested a liquidator to be appointed after an investigation into Mr Gutnick, one of Australia’s best-known business figures. The ordained Rabbi was once a regular on the BRW Rich 200 list and a benefactor to many Jewish charities. As president of a stricken Melbourne Football Club during the 1990s, his financial support kept the club alive.

However, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald revealed in a series of stories in 2019 that ASIC was investigating what happened to $18 million in loans that allegedly saw money flow from publicly listed companies controlled by Mr Gutnick to a private company that he was also closely involved with.

In a scathing judgment on Wednesday, Justice O'Bryan said Merlin "does not appear to take its legal obligations seriously," had expressed "no contrition" for various corporate transgressions and faced a "strong prima facie case" that it had contravened the Corporations Act, particularly when it came to two related companies called Chabad and Axis.

At the relevant times, both Gutnicks were directors of Merlin, Chabad and Axis.

"Merlin's current directors have permitted Merlin to advance funds totalling in excess of $13 million on uncommercial terms to a company related to [Joe Gutnick and his son Mordechai Gutnick] for no real benefit to Merlin in circumstances where the loans were being fully impaired in the same year in which they were advanced," the judgment said.

The money was paid through a number of companies in "a series of round-robin transactions", constituting "a financial benefit" to the Gutnicks with no evidence that it was approved by the shareholders of Merlin.

"The transactions … cannot be characterised as having been conducted on reasonable arm's length terms. Further, the round-robin transactions associated with the issue of convertible notes to Chabad have the appearance of uncommercial and dishonest transactions."

These facts "strongly suggest that the current directors of Merlin have applied company monies for the benefit of entities related to Mr Joseph Gutnick and Mr Mordechai Gutnick," the judgment said.

Another Gutnick-linked company, Axis, received Merlin money and then loaned more than $9 million to Brocho, a private company controlled by the Gutnick family.

"There is a need for someone independent of the company to investigate the loans that have been made to Axis and the recoverability of those loans. In my view, that need is urgent," the judge wrote.

Deloitte was appointed as liquidator.

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