National News

Major Donor Reconsiders Support for Democrats Who Urged Franken to Quit

Posted January 7, 2018 3:07 p.m. EST

A prominent donor to the Democratic Party says she is considering withdrawing support for senators who urged their colleague Al Franken to resign after he was accused of sexual misconduct.

The donor, Susie Tompkins Buell, has been one of the Democratic Party’s most generous supporters for decades. In particular, she has been a champion of female politicians, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Maria Cantwell of Washington.

Last month, those senators were among the dozens who called for Franken to resign from the Senate after at least six women accused him of sexual harassment or misconduct, such as forcible kissing and groping.

Franken announced his resignation on Dec. 7 before the Senate Ethics Committee had completed a review of the accusations, which he disputed.

Before he was elected to the Senate to represent Minnesota in 2008, Franken, a Democrat, was a well-known comedian and a cast member on “Saturday Night Live.” After he resigned, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith of Minnesota was named as his replacement.

Buell said in a text message on Saturday that withdrawing support from the senators who called for his resignation was “an option” she was considering.

“In my gut they moved too fast,” she wrote, adding that Franken “was never given his chance to tell his side of the story.”

“For me this is dangerous and wrong,” she added. “I am a big believer in helping more women into the political system but this has given me an opportunity to rethink of how I can best help my party.”

She is a friend of Hillary Clinton’s and has spoken in support of Gillibrand, who led the charge in the Senate to urge Franken to leave.

In her text, Buell said she did not know Franken personally but had met him a couple of times and was impressed by his work as a senator.

“As for Gillibrand, unfortunately, I believe she miscalculated and has shot herself in the foot,” she added. “I have supported her for many years. Will I going forward? To be determined.”

Buell, of San Francisco, was a founder of the clothing brand Esprit and has spent decades fundraising and donating millions of dollars for liberal causes and candidates. Her Susie Tompkins Buell Foundation has awarded grants to organizations supporting climate change education, a free press and women’s rights.

In 2016, Buell contributed money to help a woman who had accused President Donald Trump of harassment, she said, adding that the money was not used and was refunded. The New York Times reported last month that she was said to have donated $500,000 to support accusers, but Buell would not confirm the amount.

Her comments about the senators who called for Franken’s resignation were reported by BuzzFeed.

A spokesman for Gillibrand did not respond directly to Buell but pointed to the senator’s Facebook post on Dec. 6, in which she urged Franken to resign.

“We have to rise to the occasion, and not shrink away from it, even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard,” it said. “That is what this larger moment is about. So, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on Senator Franken’s behavior. Enough is enough. The women who have come forward are brave and I believe them.”

Gillibrand added that the allegations against Franken were not equal to the harassment and assault accusations against Hollywood filmmaker Harvey Weinstein, Alabama politician Roy S. Moore and Trump. She has called for Trump to resign. In response, he wrote in a tweet that she was a lightweight “who would come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago.”