By Tim Reid
LOSANGELES (Reuters) – Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden on Wednesday held the first of two high-dollar fundraisers in Los Angeles, which he opened to the press in a bid to counter criticism he is relying too heavily on the often closed-door events.
The former vice president’s first Los Angeles event was held at the home of Cynthia Telles, a UCLA School of Medicine faculty member and a board member of Kaiser Permanente, which runs the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals. A later fundraiser was due to be attended by Hollywood power broker and film executive Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Responding to potential concerns by voters in Democratic nominating primaries about big-money donations to his campaign, and who exactly is donating, Biden will provide limited media access to all of his fundraising events.
“It’s reflective of Joe Biden’s long-standing commitment to transparency,” a Biden campaign representative said in an email.
The strategy was also aimed at tackling criticism from some Democrats that Biden is relying too heavily on corporate and wealthy donors, something many in the party’s crowded presidential field have pledged to avoid as they seek to build their campaigns on a network of small-dollar, grassroots supporters.
Two rivals, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have criticized Biden for attending a fundraiser at the home of Comcast executive and lobbyist David Cohen shortly after announcing his presidential bid last month.
“It’s a smart move,” Karen Finney, a longtime Democratic strategist, said of Biden’s move to open such events to the press. “It’s saying: ‘I’m doing these types of fundraisers, but people can see what I say and who the people attending are.’”
Political strategists say the presence of media will also help keep Biden on message and not lead him to make potentially damaging off-the-cuff remarks in a private setting.
In past presidential races, former Democratic President Barack Obama, 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney all made comments at closed-door events that were leaked and came back to haunt their campaigns.
At the first event on Wednesday, Biden told a crowd of about 200 on the front lawn of Telles’ home, after food that included shrimp and tuna ceviche, that his campaign would be about restoring dignity to America’s workers and bringing the country together.
Biden said he got criticized for being “old Joe” and for talking about the way things used to be, but added: “Folks, we’ve got to bring the country together. There’s no way this country can function without consensus.” Guests paid up to the personal campaign contribution limit of $2,800 to attend the event.
“Thank you for your donations,” Biden told them. “I promise you, I promise you, I promise you, I will try and not let you down.”
Biden was scheduled to speak at an evening fundraiser at the Brentwood home of former Obama administration Ambassador to Spain James Costos and his husband, the designer Michael Smith. Tickets to that event cost $2,800, and were also available to those who could guarantee to raise at least $10,000 for Biden’s campaign.
Between fundraisers, Biden visited a taco shop with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, where he pledged to voters never to speak ill of a fellow Democratic presidential candidate.
Referring to the party’s current roster of 22 White House contenders, he added: “This field’s going to be winnowed out pretty quickly. This is going to work its way through, and that goes for all of us.”
(Reporting by Tim Reid; Editing by Peter Cooney)