Almost one year ago, after eight women came forward to accuse Al Franken of sexual misconduct (including non-consensual groping and kissing), Kirsten Gillibrand became the first Democratic senator to publicly call for Franken’s resignation. Now, Politico reports that top Democratic donors are continuing to punish her for it.
More than a dozen donors interviewed by Politico said that they would no longer donate or raise money for Gillibrand, painting her as “duplicitous” and “opportunistic.” As one rich person, Susie Tompkins Buell, put it to Politico: “I do hear people refer to Kirsten Gillibrand as ‘opportunistic’ and shrewd at the expense of others to advance herself and it seems to have been demonstrated in her rapid treatment of her colleague Al Franken. I heard her referred to as ‘she would eat her own’ and she seems to have demonstrated that.”
Tompkins Buell, interestingly, does not acknowledge that Gillibrand’s apparently “opportunistic” decision to hold Franken accountable may have also been one of the most politically costly moves the Democrat has made in her career. And in the case of donors like Tompkins Buell, it has been literally costly. Calling for Franken’s resignation—a beloved, white man and charismatic, progressive voice in the party—was always going to be a monumentally risky move. This reality is perhaps why female Democratic senators coordinated their call for Franken to resign. Gillibrand’s statement was timed to be the first because of her long-standing work on sexual harassment. Per CNN last year:
Women Democratic senators had been talking behind the scenes for at least the past week about how to deal with Franken, multiple aides told CNN. But those talks reached a tipping point Wednesday morning, they said, when Politico published a report at 9 a.m. ET of another woman alleging that Franken touched her inappropriately in 2006, before he was elected to office.
The story prompted a flurry of calls and texts between Senate offices within minutes, and it was decided sometime between then and about 10:30 a.m. ET that the women senators would go public in a show of unity with their desire for Franken to step aside.
That Democratic donors are now withholding their money from Gillibrand is a reminder that there are costs for speaking up—and powerful people ready to enforce them.