Why Any Biden Replacement Besides Harris Would Face A Major Fundraising Hassle

Vice President Kamala Harris, campaign finance experts agree, would be the easiest replacement for Joe Biden.
Vice President Kamala Harris, campaign finance experts agree, would be the easiest replacement for Joe Biden. Associated Press

If President Joe Biden does not run for reelection, Vice President Kamala Harris would have a major practical advantage over other possible candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.

That’s because only Harris could seamlessly assume complete control of the president’s campaign war chest, making the vice president the easiest option, at least financially, to replace Biden at the top of the ticket.

“It’s uncharted waters, and for a candidate other than the vice president, it’s going to put a burden on raising a lot of money very quickly,” Larry Noble, the former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission, told HuffPost.

Transferring everything to another candidate besides Harris becomes much trickier, if not impossible, according to experts who emphasize the unprecedented nature of the situation currently facing Democrats. In that case, the Biden-Harris account could roll everything over into a political action committee, turn it over to the Democratic National Committee, or refund donors and ask them to contribute to a new committee. None of these are ideal options.

“Because President Biden and Vice President Harris share an authorized campaign committee … if President Biden were to cease being a candidate and was succeeded as the nominee by Harris, she would maintain access to all the funds in the committee and could use them to advance her presidential candidacy,” Trevor Potter, the president of the Campaign Legal Center, a campaign finance watchdog, explained on social media this week.

A new campaign would also have to pay for campaign infrastructure like staffers, field offices and existing ad buys at fair market value since it’s all subject to in-kind contribution limits.

“The Biden-Harris campaign could make a political contribution to another candidate, it’s just subject to political contribution limits,” Noble said, citing the candidate-to-candidate federal contribution limit of $2,000 per election. “They just can’t transfer [everything] to another candidate.”

It’s just one example of how challenging building out a new campaign would be for anyone but Harris four months from the election, as Democrats begin to waver publicly on whether Biden has the stamina to win the election and complete another term. Fundraising is just one piece of a puzzle that would include coalescing behind another candidate and getting them on the ballot in 50 states with different rules for qualifying.

Harris, who ran against Biden in 2020 before becoming his running mate, is getting a renewed look as a presidential candidate. A CNN poll this week even showed her slightly edging out Biden in a head-to-head against Trump.

But Biden and his closest advisors have dug in following last Thursday’s debate, during which Biden, 81, appeared unable to effectively counter the 78-year-old former president.

To try and quell mounting concerns, Biden’s campaign released its second-quarter fundraising numbers on Tuesday, revealing that Biden raised $264 million in Q2, including $127 million in June and $33 million alone on the day of the debate, according to the campaign. Biden ended the quarter with $240 million cash on hand versus Trump’s $285 million in cash from his $331 million Q2 haul. They’re strong numbers for both campaigns in the election’s final stretch.

But if Democrats were to nominate Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer or California Gov. Gavin Newsom — who are both being floated as possible Biden successors now and in 2028 — neither directly benefits from the Biden-Harris campaign’s mountain of cash unless Harris is also running.

The only way, according to campaign finance experts, to ensure an entirely new ticket gets the same money would be to refund donors and ask them to contribute to a new candidate committee — a logistical nightmare wouldn’t guarantee the same outcome for a new campaign.

A Democratic strategist called that option “phenomenally stupid” but emphasized there’s no modern precedent for what Democrats are currently facing. “People are not going to donate it back … I don’t think you should ever give back money in politics,” this person said.

The Biden-Harris campaign could also roll over money into a PAC, which can accept unlimited contributions but can’t spend them in direct coordination with a candidate. Another PAC downside: They often pay more than candidates for TV airtime, a major campaign expense.

The campaign could also give it all to the Democratic National Committee, but even with the DNC, there are rules governing coordinating with candidates that curb how freely the committee can spend. “That’s not necessarily as effective as a campaign spending money itself,” Noble said.

Noble pointed out how not since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 has a sitting president opted not to run for reelection, “and that was before all these laws.”

He added, “For a candidate other than the vice president, it’s really going to put a burden on raising a lot of money.”

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