Josh Gottheimer's Obstructionist Crew Raised Millions During Showdown With Nancy Pelosi

Sara Sirota / The Intercept
Josh Gottheimer's Obstructionist Crew Raised Millions During Showdown With Nancy Pelosi Josh Gottheimer. (photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)

Wealthy donors rushed funds to conservative Democrats after they threatened to torpedo the Build Back Better plan.

The mid-August uprising against President Joe Biden’s agenda was rewarded with an avalanche of campaign contributions from some of the country’s wealthiest donors, many of them with shared connections to the dark-money group No Labels, a review of federal campaign disclosure records finds.

On August 12, New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, the Democratic head of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, and eight colleagues sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a letter demanding she put a corporate-backed infrastructure plan on the House floor immediately. They wanted Pelosi to abandon the two-track strategy to tie the bipartisan infrastructure deal to the reconciliation deal. By doing so, Pelosi would have let go of major leverage she had over conservative Democrats to commit to finishing the reconciliation process.

On August 13, the day after sending the letter to Pelosi, three of Gottheimer’s co-signers had their single best fundraising days of the year until that point. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, got $99,000, more than he raised in the entire first half of this year and twice what he got in the prior six weeks, while Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Jim Costa, D-Calif., collected $131,000 and $106,000, respectively. Schrader was one of three Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who joined Republicans last month to vote down a proposal to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices so it could afford to include vision, hearing, and dental benefits. The proposal is now on the chopping block from the reconciliation package.

On August 19, the day after he appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to advocate an immediate floor vote on the infrastructure bill, Gottheimer had his best fundraising day of the third quarter, taking in more than $124,000. His co-signers Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Ga.; Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas; and Jared Golden, D-Maine, also raised more on August 19 than any other day throughout the third quarter, all receiving at least $109,000.

The rush of donations appears to have come from an organized campaign or joint fundraiser: Nearly every single one of Case’s roughly 70 donors on August 13 — many of whom were financiers and consultants — also gave to Schrader and Costa that day. The three lawmakers’ average donation sizes on August 13 were more than $1,100, and none of Case or Schrader’s scores of donors that day live in their respective states.

Some of their shared donors are linked to No Labels, whose high-income members face greater taxes under Build Back Better, which would roll back some of Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts. The maximum $5,800 arrived from insurance industry veteran James Stanard, real estate developer Steven Fifield, and banker David Roscoe — all of whom joined a June phone call hosted by the group where Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., urged callers to use their influence to defend the filibuster, which is blocking Democrats’ voting rights legislation and other reforms.

The overwhelming majority of Case, Schrader, and Costa’s August 13 donors also gave to Gottheimer, Gonzalez, and Golden on August 19, including Fifield and Roscoe. Nearly every one of Gottheimer’s 118 contributors on August 19 donated to Gonzalez and Golden that day. Meanwhile, most of Bourdeaux’s donors during that rush in fundraising are not identifiable, as $150,000 of her $173,000 daily total came from shielded individuals with the No Labels Problem Solvers Caucus PAC, a political action committee linked with the Problem Solvers Caucus. Bourdeaux is by far the PAC’s largest recipient of campaign contributions this year, followed by South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott.

Gottheimer and his letter co-signers — together known as the Unbreakable Nine — held their ground after demanding that Pelosi let go of her leverage over them, driving the House speaker on August 24 to agree to call a floor vote on the infrastructure bill in late September. Massive checks continued to arrive from people linked to No Labels and other wealthy donors. Between August 13 and 27, a few days after Pelosi made the deal, Gottheimer and his colleagues collectively raised more than $3.1 million.

In that 15-day period, Bourdeaux gained the most among the group of obstructionists: $635,000, or the bulk of the $704,000 she raised in the whole third quarter. Schrader and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, also got more than half a million dollars, or the majority of their quarterly donations. The others — Gottheimer, Case, Costa, Gonzalez, and Golden — all raised at least $240,000. (The ninth, Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, is not running for reelection in 2022 and has hardly done any fundraising this year.)

Also in August, as The Intercept reported, No Labels dangled $200,000 before two co-signers of the Gottheimer letter, Bourdeaux and Gonzalez, in exchange for canceling an August 21 fundraiser with Pelosi. Gonzalez ultimately did not attend; in the five days that followed, he took in more than $110,000 cashing checks from billionaires like hedge fund manager Louis Bacon and insurance firm founder William R. Berkley, both active contributors to Problem Solvers Caucus members. In September, he raised another $365,000.

Other Democrats who belong to the Problem Solvers Caucus but didn’t sign onto Gottheimer’s letter to Pelosi did not receive the same rush of money. For example, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., raised close to $91,000 between August 13 and 27 — a more modest amount, apace with the roughly $830,000 she took in during the third quarter. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., raised $123,000, and $716,000 for the quarter. Slotkin’s average donation size during the 15-day period was about $175 and Luria’s was roughly $355. (For comparison, Gottheimer’s, Bourdeaux’s, and Cuellar’s all hovered around $1,000.)

More ultra-rich individuals on the dark-money group’s June call with Manchin would go on to donate to Gottheimer and his allies. Billionaire investor Howard Marks, private equity investor Kenneth Schiciano, and real estate developer W. James Tozer Jr. all donated to some or all of the eight conservative dissidents who were raising funds between August 13 and 27. None gave to Slotkin or Luria. Slotkin and Luria also notably did not receive donations from the No Labels-tied contributors Stanard, Fifield, and Roscoe.

The members of the Gottheimer’s crew also received funds from John McDonnell, founder of former aerospace manufacturer McDonnell Douglas, now part of Boeing; Paul Haaga, former chair of financial services giant Capital Research and Management; Peter Gottsegen, founder of private equity firm CAI Managers; and Craig Duchossois, chair of private investment firm Duchossois Group. McDonnell and Duchossois, major contributors to Republican causes, have also donated thousands of dollars to the No Labels Problem Solvers PAC.

In a major upset for the conservative Democrats, Pelosi called off her deal to hold a floor vote on the infrastructure bill in late September and has returned to the original strategy of hinging it to passage of the Build Back Better Act. Still, conservative Democrats have plenty to celebrate since Democratic leaders have had to temper the size and scope of the more ambitious bill, thanks to pressure from Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who are also propped up by many of the same donors. Now, the budget reconciliation bill is facing significant cuts, such as expanded Medicare coverage and paid family leave, which conservative Democrats have sought to roll back.

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