Elizabeth Warren is calling out billionaires on their turf -- and they don't like it
Posted November 14, 2019 3:36 p.m. EST
CNN — Elizabeth Warren is taking her clash with billionaires to their home turf.
The Democratic presidential candidate launched an ad buy Thursday on CNBC, a network that frequently hosts the billionaires whose wealth she wants to tax.
Warren used the ad blitz to make the case for her wealth tax while simultaneously calling out her billionaire critics for their own actions.
The commercial, which aired on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" Thursday morning, highlighted billionaire Leon Cooperman's insider trading troubles, Peter Thiel's role in bankrolling President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and the lofty compensation former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein received during the financial crash.
All three have been vocal critics of Warren's aggressive plan to fight America's very real inequality problem. The top 1% of US households now control $34.7 trillion of the nation's wealth, according to the Federal Reserve. The bottom 50% of families only control $2.1 trillion.
Aiming to level the playing field, Warren wants to raise taxes on the ultra-wealthy and use the proceeds to pay for ambitious programs, including ones that would eliminate student debt and make all public colleges tuition free.
"We're Americans. We want to make these investments. All we're saying is when you make it big, pitch in two cents so everyone else gets a chance," Warren said during the ad, which is part of a digital ad buy and is also scheduled to air at 6 pm ET.
'Maybe tribalism is just in her DNA'
The commercial featured Blankfein telling CNN's Poppy Harlow last month that he fears Warren wants "cataclysmic change" to the US economy.
Warren then called out Blankfein for the $70 million in compensation he received in 2007, the year the Great Recession began. That pay package included $27 million in bonuses and $26 million in stock awards, according to filings.
Blankfein, a registered Democrat who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, responded by hinting at Warren's past disputed claims to Native American heritage.
"Vilification of people as a member of a group may be good for her campaign, not the country," Blankfein, who grew up in the projects of Brooklyn, tweeted. "Maybe tribalism is just in her DNA."
The former Goldman CEO added that he was "surprised" to be featured in the ad because of the "many severe critics she has out there." He said Warren is "not my candidate, but we align on many issues."
Warren calls out insider trading troubles
Cooperman, the son of a plumber who has promised to give away his fortune to charity, had a more forceful response.
The hedge fund billionaire told CNBC on Wednesday that Warren is "disgraceful" and "doesn't know who the f--- she's tweeting." He added, "I gave away more in the year than she has in her whole f---ing lifetime."
Cooperman added on Thursday that Warren's wealth tax is "probably unconstitutional" and that "if this lady wins, we're in big trouble."
In the ad, Warren called out Cooperman for the 2017 insider trading charges that were levied by the SEC.
Cooperman took issue with that, telling CNBC that he "won the case."
That's not exactly what happened. The insider trading charges were settled with the SEC. Cooperman and his hedge fund settled the charges with the SEC, paying nearly $5 million in penalties and forfeited profits, while not admitting any wrongdoing. Cooperman is currently worth $3.2 billion, according to Forbes.
Warren also called out two of her other billionaire critics for their ties to Trump.
The ad highlighted that Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, sits on the board of directors at Facebook, a company Warren wants to break up, and was a major supporter to Trump's 2016 campaign.
Similarly, Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, made a cameo during the ad that mentioned his contributions to Republican super PACs.
Neither Thiel nor Ricketts responded to requests for comment.
Top 1% control $4 trillion more than the middle class
The back-and-forth between Warren and billionaires underscores the deep divide over how to address America's inequality problem.
In 1989, the middle class controlled $2.4 trillion more in wealth than the top 1%, according to the Fed.
But that has since reversed, with the top 1% holding $4 trillion more than the entire middle class.
Those numbers explain Warren's relentless focus on inequality. She has called for imposing a wealth tax of 6 cents on every dollar of net worth above $1 billion.
Research suggests that the ultra-wealthy would still be very rich even if the wealth tax had been imposed decades ago. For instance, a tool run by TaxJusticeNow.org calculates that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos would be worth $95.3 billion today if a wealth tax was imposed in 1982. That's compared to his 2018 net worth of $160 billion.
Warren's campaign says her wealth tax can pay for various programs, including universal child care, universal pre-school, canceling student loan debt and Medicare-for-All.