WASHINGTON — Wealthy people don’t often invite socialists to speak at their conferences.
But most gatherings of the rich are not like the Way to Win, network ofdeep-pocketed progressive donors, run almost entirely by women, who don’t fit the typical mold of other big-money political givers.
The network, which recommends where donations should be directed, has placed more than $30 million to political nonprofit groups and candidatessince its founding in 2017 and plans to expand on that significantly to at least $50 million in next election cycle, while sticking to its approach of remaking the Democratic Party by sending money to small local groups run predominantly by people of color and women.
At a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Monday, the group is unveiling its Plan to Win in 2020, shared early with NBC News, which explicitly rejects the focus many Democrats have on beating President Donald Trump by winning back working-class white voters in the Rust Belt. Instead, the plan favors expanding turnout among minorities and other Democratic-leaning demographic groups in rapidly diversifying states like Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and Florida.
“We can win the White House without taking the Midwestern states that slipped in 2016, and where demographic trends are unfavorable,” the plan says, laying out a strategy to support grassroots organizing efforts the group hopes will help Democrats win everything from school boards to the White House by bringing new voters into the process.
“You have a president who is attacking birthright citizenship, putting people in cages — if these don’t persuade you that he is not the right person to lead the country, then I don’t know what persuasion campaign will,” said Way to Win co-founder Tory Gavito. “He’s got a base mobilization strategy, which means we need to, too.”
In addition to an opening keynote address from Tiffany Cabán, the 32-year-old Democratic Socialist who narrowly lost a recent district attorney race in Queens, the conference features appearances from left-wing groups like Justice Democrats, which recruited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to run for Congress, and the climate group Sunshine Movement, known for their frequent protests of Republicans and Democrats alike.
Needless to say, these are not your typical Joe Biden donors; they probably have more in common with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, even though those candidates have sworn off big donors.
“I think there’s a new generation of donors who are open to taking more risks and who have lived through past mistakes,” said another of the group’s co-founders, Leah Hunt-Hendrix, 36, an heiress to a Texas oil fortune founded by her late grandfather H.L. Hunt, who made a name for himself by promoting right-wing causes.
“I always knew from a young age that wealth did not equal happiness,” said Hunt-Hendrix, who was involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement. “That people with wealth are often isolated and struggling and lonely and that by really being involved in something bigger than yourself and contributing to the arc of history that you can find so much more happiness and community. Sacrificing some of one’s wealth or power is a small price to pay for the world that is more just and fair and where those resources and shared.”
She has attracted other prominent liberal donors with an approach that prioritizes long-term investments in grassroots organizing to bring new voters into the process, instead of dumping a ton of money on TV ads to win the next election.
“After the infamous 2016 election, I think many of us were so taken sideways that there was a very strong feeling that the old ways weren’t working,” said Susan Stowell Pritzker, a member of one the wealthiest families in the country.
The Pritzkers, who own Hyatt hotels, are prominent Democratic donors closely associated with former President Barack Obama and relations include the current governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, and Obama’s former commerce secretary, Penny Pritzker.
Pritzker said she has had trouble convincing other wealthy benefactors that investing in communities of color is the best way to secure the Democratic Party’s future.
“They nod and stare, but I have had a hard time getting in,” she told NBC News. “I don’t want to say that it’s implicit bias, or a white person’s fear of the brown horde, because it wouldn’t be conscious. It’d be unconscious, but it might be there.”
The mostly white members of Way to Win can be an unlikely partner with minority-focused groups they support, but a valuable one, said Nse Ufot, the executive director of the New Georgia Project.
“It’s clear that they shared our analysis,” said Ufot, whose group was founded by former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. “We can bring the wealthy, often white, donor and operative class along with us.”
Hunt-Hendrix and her colleagues scour the country for groups and leaders they think are doing the best job organizing voters who aren’t likely to turn out in key states in important races up and down the ballot. Three-quarters of the group Way to Win supports are run by people of color and 69 percent are run by women.
Most traditional big-money groups, meanwhile, are not ready to give up on swing voters in places like Wisconsin.
“We know that by every measurement there’s a host of undecided voters who are open to being persuaded,” said Guy Cecil, the chairman of the Democrats’ largest super PAC, Priorities USA, at a recent briefing for reporters.
Hunt-Hendrix said it’s fine if other groups want to chase swing voters, but added that she wants to focus on getting fans to the stadium instead of convincing people to switch teams.
“It’s a missed opportunity when we use elections to focus on people who are not sure what they stand for,” she said, “rather than people who really do believe in progressive priorities, but have not been brought into the political process.”
AOC, Omar set to endorse Bernie Sanders for president
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is feeling the Bern.
The freshman congresswoman plans to endorse Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president at a rally in New York on Saturday, the Sanders campaign told NBC News.
The endorsement was first reported by The Washington Post.
Another member of “the squad,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, announced on Tuesday night that she is endorsing Sanders. The other two members are Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
Sanders mentioned he’d have a “special guest” at his “Bernie’s Back” rally in Queens during Tuesday’s debate, and the campaign later acknowledged that guest is “Green New Deal” champion and democratic socialist Ocasio-Cortez.
The sought-after endorsement is a blow to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who’s teamed with Ocasio-Cortez on various causes over the past year.
Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders have some history. She was a volunteer organizer for Sanders’ 2016 campaign, and he hailed her long-shot win in the Democratic primary last year. “What she did is talk about the real issues,” he said then.
They also paired on legislation to cap credit card rates this year.
George Kent tells lawmakers he was told to ‘lay low’ after raising concerns about Giuliani
WASHINGTON — State Department official George Kent told lawmakers in a closed-door deposition Tuesday that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney appointed three other Trump administration officials to spearhead the president’s efforts in Ukraine.
According to Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who was present for the deposition, Kent testified that Mulvaney oversaw a meeting where he sidelined State Department officials and tapped three political appointees — Energy Secretary Rick Perry, European Ambassador Gordon Sondland and special envoy Kurt Volker — to oversee Ukraine policy for the United States.
Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state who worked on Ukraine and five other countries, told congressional investigators that the trio called themselves “the three amigos” and elbowed all the other officials at State out of the way, according to Connolly.
This not the first time Mulvaney was mentioned in depositions as part of the impeachment inquiry. President Donald Trump’s former Russia adviser Fiona Hill testified that then-national security adviser John Bolton said he wanted nothing to do with Mulvaney and Giuliani’s objectives in Ukraine, which Bolton said amounted to a “drug deal.”
Just weeks before the May 23 meeting, Marie Yovanovich was told that she was being recalled as the ambassador to Ukraine despite being told that she had done nothing wrong, according to her congressional testimony last week.
According to Connolly, Kent also testified that after the May 23 meeting, he was told to “lay low” by a superior when he raised concerns about Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was working to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.
“The way I took it,” Connolly told NBC News, was that Kent “had just finished describing how he had told people that this is wrong, that Giuliani is out of control.”
Kent also said, according to Connolly, that the Trump allies who pushed for Ukraine to investigate corruption made it clear that “POTUS” wanted cooperation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian government.
Kent, who attended meetings and receptions with Zelenskiy and his advisers, said that Sondland and Volker floated the idea of a meeting with Trump, according to Connolly. Text messages between Volker and Sondland released this month also show that Zeleneskiy’s cooperation was expected in order to meet with Trump.
Volker testified behind closed doors last week that Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to investigate corruption in Ukraine but that there was “no quid pro quo” for military and security aid, which the administration had put on hold for nearly four months. Sondland is expected to testify under subpoena on Thursday.
During his nearly 10 hours of testimony, Kent also told members of Congress and their staff that Burisma, the energy company where Hunter Biden was a board member, was corrupt, according to a separate person who was present in the room. Kent said he told the Obama administration in 2016 that they should not hold an event with Burisma because of the company’s extensive corruption in Ukraine.
Kent was called in to testify because he raised the alarm about the disinformation campaign that Giuliani and his associates pushed regarding Ukraine, according to a emails included in the packet that the Intelligence Community’s Inspector General Michael Atkinson provided to Congress, obtained by NBC News. He sent a series of emails to colleagues alerting them of the “fake news driven smear out of Ukraine.”
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