William Owen, a Tennessee-based Democratic National Committee member backing an effort to use so-called superdelegates to select the party’s presidential nominee — potentially subverting the candidate with the most voter support — is a Republican donor and health care lobbyist.
Owen, who runs a lobbying firm called Asset & Equity Corporations, donated to Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., and Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and gave $8,500 to a joint fundraising committee designed to benefit Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in 2019.
“I am a committed Democrat but as a lobbyist, there are times when I need to have access to both sides and the way to get access quite often is to make campaign contributions,” said Owen, in a brief interview with The Intercept.
“I’m a registered lobbyist and I represent clients and they have interest in front of Congress and I attend the Senator’s Classic, which is a Republican event, each year,” he added.
Owen noted that he understood how his GOP donations could open him up for criticism but stressed that he also gives to Democrats. Federal Election Commission records show Owen has donated to Democrats in previous years, but has not donated to his own party’s congressional candidates this cycle. Owen has not given to any presidential candidates this cycle.
Owen, currently registered as lobbyist for Klox Technologies, a medical product company, was quoted in the New York Times today as one of the party insiders considering an effort to block Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s path to the nomination at the DNC convention in Milwaukee this July.
“I am a committed Democrat but as a lobbyist, there are times when I need to have access to both sides and the way to get access quite often is to make campaign contributions,” Owen told The Intercept.
A former member of the Tennessee state legislature, Owen is currently an executive member of the Tennessee Democratic Party and DNC, making him one of the 771 unpledged delegates, also known as superdelegates, who could play a hand in selecting the presidential nomination. Owens is a supporter of former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, and has pushed to use superdelegates to make Biden the nominee.
The Tennessee Democrat worked in 2018 to block a Sanders-backed plan to weaken the role of superdelegates in the nomination process. “If we don’t have a vote, then what good are we?” Owen told Politico at the time.
The push was ultimately defeated. Sanders’s supporters won a key concession from the DNC, changing the rules to only allow superdelegate participation in the nominating process on the second ballot.
The Intercept previously reported on the potential for party insiders — including corporate lobbyists and lawmakers funded by special interests — to cut a backroom deal to block a more populist candidate from the nomination. Several superdelegates are consultants to health care clients lobbying against Medicare for All. Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and JPMorgan Chase each employ lobbyists who simultaneously serve as superdelegates.
Chris Dodd, a former Connecticut senator and one of the superdelegates quoted by the Times today, is a lobbyist with the law firm Arnold & Porter, which represents corporate interests such as the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, Lloyd’s of London, and AT&T. Dodd has endorsed Biden for president.
Current polls suggest Sanders will have the most voter and delegate support going into the nomination, but may fall short of the threshold for the nomination on the first ballot.
In recent days, several candidates, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, have embraced the potential for a brokered convention, in which superdelegates could be used to stop Sanders.
Bloomberg, notably, has discussed efforts to poach delegates from other more moderate candidates to bring together an anti-Sanders coalition. In January, his campaign hired Alexandra Rooker, a superdelegate from California, as an adviser. Michael Nutter, the former Philadelphia mayor and DNC superdelegate, is a co-chair of the Bloomberg campaign. FEC disclosures show Nutter has been paid at least $45,000 by the Bloomberg campaign.
Owen told the Times he has been in contact with multiple campaigns. Owen floated the name of Michelle Obama as a potential running mate to bring the party together. Other superdelegates, according to the Times, are floating moderate lawmakers such as Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., or Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., as potential unity candidates to lead the ticket. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, a popular progressive lawmaker, has also been floated as a unity candidate.