Their presence on Warren’s unorthodox campaign shows how the Massachusetts senator — whose campaign is funded primarily by small-dollar online donors and who rails against the corrosive influence of political donors and Wall Street billionaires, even selling a campaign mug labeled “BILLIONAIRE TEARS” on the side — is not completely blowing up her ties to the Democratic establishment. Egerman, her campaign treasurer, is a prolific political donor himself. And the wealthy supporters Egerman and Fry are organizing today may have another act to play in Warren’s campaign: If she became the nominee, those donors may help finance the national Democratic Party, which can collect six-figure sums and which Warren has said she would raise money for if chosen as the nominee, or help super PACs that would support Warren against President Donald Trump.
And their efforts highlight how some wealthy donors, especially progressives in her Boston base, have continued to embrace Warren, undaunted by the calls for a wealth tax and “Medicare for All” that have recently prompted furious criticism from Wall Street.
Last week, a crowd of Bostonians packed into the trendy Tiger Mama restaurant for a brunch benefiting Warren’s campaign — without Warren herself, per campaign policy. Instead, the event, which focused on LGBTQ support and was open to small- and large-dollar donors, had the next best thing: a cardboard cutout of Warren, as well as face time with Egerman and Fry.
“People are doing lots of events — there’s enormous enthusiasm for her,” said Elyse Cherry, a Boston-based donor who helped organize the event. “The screaming coming from Wall Street, it has not changed the enthusiasm one bit.”
If Warren had maintained a traditional fundraising operation, Egerman would have a powerful, though still volunteer, campaign role heading up a massive big-donor fundraising operation. But while Warren’s paid fundraisers left their jobs when she switched to her current fundraising model, Egerman has adapted to being a full-time organizer and stand-in for Warren with donors, friends say, after helping Warren build a national donor network in the Senate in past years.
“He’s been associated with Elizabeth for a while, and he’s doing a lot of work for her,” said Alan Solomont, former U.S. ambassador to Spain and a friend of Egerman’s. “He has no reason to be doing this aside from having a real commitment to making a difference.”
“It’s whatever it takes. They’re playing a nontraditional role,” said Steve Grossman, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who once ran for governor of Massachusetts and described Egerman and Fry’s roles as more organizing-based than a traditional sole focus on fundraising. “They’re rolling up their sleeves and they’re doing it.”
But that “doesn’t mean they’re not asking people for substantial contributions,” Grossman said, adding that his wife, Barbara, donated $2,800 to Warren after a request from Fry.
Chris Hayden, spokesman for the Warren campaign, said in a statement: “Paul and Shanti are our finance co-chairs. Paul also serves as our treasurer. In their capacities, they help raise money for the campaign consistent with the campaign’s policies against pay-for access to Elizabeth.”
Warren’s campaign declined to answer questions from POLITICO about whether the campaign had paid for any travel for Egerman or Fry, or for the donors, on trips that the finance co-chairs have organized to early-voting states and other Warren events.
Today, Egerman is one of few ties Warren is quietly maintaining to major Democratic donors. But he’s helped link Warren to that world of big money for years, as her political profile rose.
A multimillionaire who one acquaintance affectionately likened to a “beat-up Toyota Camry” for his unpretentious demeanor, Egerman earned his money as a health care technology entrepreneur, co-founding one company that eventually sold for $1.2 billion. He has since pivoted to professional advocacy, donated more than $9 million to Democratic politics over the past 25 years with his wife, Joanne, and become involved with organizations including the Jewish advocacy group J Street, the liberal think tank Demos — where Warren’s daughter is also a former board member — and Patriotic Millionaires, which advocates raising taxes on the wealthy. Egerman is a former treasurer and longtime member of the high-powered liberal donor group Democracy Alliance, which counts George Soros and Tom Steyer among its members.
Egerman and Warren first met before she ran for office: His son was a law student of Warren’s at Harvard, he told the Boston Globe in 2012, which had led him to strike up a conversation with her on an airplane.
“You’re Elizabeth Warren,” Egerman said to Warren at the time. “I’d really like to talk policy with you. I’m Paul Egerman.”
Egerman joined Warren’s 2012 Senate campaign early as her finance chair, a volunteer job that he approached with full-time zeal, according to people familiar with the campaign, frequently approaching staff with questions about the details of Warren’s health care and education proposals as much as he did fundraising.
At the time, Egerman’s support was invaluable to Warren, said one Democratic fundraiser who helped raise money for her in 2012, noting that Warren initially faced resistance from the Massachusetts Democratic establishment that later embraced her. “She needed Paul more than he needed her,” the fundraiser said. “He was the one getting checks and throwing events and validating and hustling for her, back when she was the random professor known for running a federal agency.”
As Warren became a political phenomenon, the soon-to-be-senator took off with small-dollar donors, who contributed close to half of the $42 million she raised in 2012. But Warren also won financial support from celebrities like Barbra Streisand and Ben Affleck, and hosted singer Carole King for a fundraiser in Massachusetts.
Egerman and Fry — who co-chaired the 2012 campaign — kept working with Warren’s fundraising staff after 2012, nurturing relationships and acting as a link between Warren and donors.
And Warren, with help from her finance team, continued to be a magnetic draw. In 2014, she was a prolific fundraiser for Democratic Senate colleagues. In late 2016, Warren and singer Stevie Wonder backed up Hillary Clinton to rake in at least $3 million from one fundraiser. And Warren raised nearly $26 million for her noncompetitive reelection bid in 2018, allowing her to transfer more than $10 million to seed her nascent presidential campaign earlier this year.
While some longtime Warren supporters have been turned off by her decision to not hold private fundraisers during her 2020 campaign, Warren’s popularity among big Democratic donors is evident in the money she’s raised from big names including Fred Eychaner, the Chicago-based megadonor and chairman of Newsweb Corp.; Sam Altman, former president of the technology accelerator Y Combinator; and Hollywood bundler Jeffrey Katzenberg, who along with consultant Andy Spahn raised more than $6 million for Barack Obama. (Producer Shonda Rhimes and actresses Scarlett Johansson and Amy Schumer also fill out Warren’s list of Hollywood contributors.)
And billionaire George Soros, who has made almost no public remarks about the Democratic primary, spoke kindly of Warren in an October interview with The New York Times. “I don’t take a public stance, but I do believe that she is the most qualified to be president,” Soros said, adding: “I’m not endorsing anybody because I want to work with whoever.”
“I like her very much. I think she’s taken some unfair hits,” said Bay Area lawyer Guy Saperstein, who tried to entice Warren to run for president in 2016 by offering to spend $1 million on a super PAC supporting her. “I would be hit by a wealth tax but I support it — I think it’s fair.”
If Warren becomes the Democratic nominee, friends and allies expect Egerman and Fry to work to corral donors like Saperstein to write big checks to the DNC and help Warren fundraise for other campaigns and state parties, all of which the campaign has said she would do in a general election.
But unlike the volunteers manning fundraising operations for Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, they would still need to keep figuring out perks to offer the campaign’s donors without giving access to the candidate herself — maybe with a little help from more cardboard cutouts of Warren.