(Bloomberg) -- Elizabeth Warren pledged Tuesday to forgo any high-dollar fundraising events if she becomes the Democratic nominee, a move that would make her the first general-election candidate to do so and could be a high-stakes gamble against a cash-rich incumbent and a well-funded GOP apparatus.
But Warren would still accept high-dollar contributions from most people who choose to write her a check without getting special access or seeing her in person. She also vowed to refuse to accept "any contributions over $200 from executives at big tech companies, big banks, private equity firms, or hedge funds."
Warren's pledge also wouldn't stop the party or super-PACs from raising vast amounts of money on her behalf. But it may stop wealthy donors from cutting big checks if they believe it won't help them get access to the nominee.
"When I'm the Democratic nominee for president, I'm not going to change a thing in how I run my campaign: No PACs. No federal lobbyists. No special access or call time with rich donors or big dollar fundraisers to underwrite my campaign," Warren said in a statement released by her campaign.
Still, some Democrats fear it would put the party at a huge fundraising disadvantage against President Donald Trump, who's raking in vast sums of money from big donors by his own campaign and by super-PACs that support him.
Rufus Gifford, the finance director for former President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign, has said Warren's earlier suggestions to avoid high-dollar events was "a colossally stupid decision" that would cost Democrats not only in the presidential contest but also in down-ballot races.
But it also reflects her populist pitch to be a different kind of candidate who isn't corrupted by special interest money, and so far she has proven adept at generating small-dollar contributions that are envied by her party rivals.
Nominees traditionally complain about the amount of time needed to raise money in a campaign and call for changes in financing presidential races, but then say they can't "unilaterally disarm" against a well-funded opponent.
Warren's bet is that her pitch will propel her campaign in the Democratic contest -- where she's tied with Joe Biden for the top spot -- and mobilize many of the estimated 100 million eligible voters who didn't turn out in the 2016 election. Biden spends a significant amount of time raising money from traditional donor bases.
It's unclear how Warren's pledge would apply to the Democratic National Committee, which can accept contributions from individuals of as much as $355,000 for various accounts, including $35,500 per donor that can be used to influence the election.
And it wouldn't apply to outside groups like super-PACs, which under federal law cannot coordinate their activities with campaigns. In 2016, Priorities USA had more than 30 individual donors who contributed more than $1 million.
Obama barred contributions from registered lobbyists and corporate PACs. The DNC was outraised by its Republican counterpart in 2012 by almost $100 million, yet Obama, a popular incumbent, won overwhelmingly against rival Mitt Romney in the election. The party lifted the bans in 2016, and the DNC raised $354 million compared to $343 million for the Republican National Committee.
Warren often highlights her approach to fundraising on the campaign trail, reassuring prospective voters that her campaign is fueled by them, not big dollar donors.
"I don't spend my time at fundraisers for bazilionaires and corporate executives," Warren said during a town hall in Austin, Texas last month. "I just don't do it."
When asked about whether her grassroots fundraising model could leave her without enough money to go against Trump in the general election, Warren was adamant that a flurry of contributions ranging between $5 and $25 would be enough. Trump and the RNC raised $125 million in the first quarter, more than all of the major Democrats combined.
"If you think it's going to be all about scooping up a bunch of money from rich people, and then buying a bunch of TV ads, and that's how it is someone's gonna win, then yeah it looks like Trump's doing a lot here," Warren said recently in San Diego. "I just don't think that's how democracy works anymore. And I sure don't think that's how it's going to work in 2020. I think it's going to be about getting out and building a grassroots movement."
In his battle against Hillary Clinton in 2016, Bernie Sanders relied primarily on small-dollar donors to raise $235.4 million through the end of May 2016, nearly matching the $238.2 million she raised over the same period.
But Clinton also had joint fundraising committees that raised millions for the Democratic National Committee and state parties.
Trump is using the same arrangements to build a huge financial advantage over his rivals. His campaign and the RNC, plus a pair of joint fundraising committees that raise money for each, have taken more than $300 million through this year, according to Federal Election Commission reports and totals announced by Trump's re-election effort.
Warren has raised $60.2 million in the same period, including about $10 million she transferred from her Senate campaign.
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