Clinton takes a 'just enough' strategy to fundraising

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The stars are out to raise money for Hillary Rodham Clinton: Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett at the Plaza Hotel, Jon Bon Jovi at home in Jersey. So, too, are the Democratic Party's wealthiest donors, from a Facebook co-founder to the heiress of a brewing fortune.

Yet even as Clinton picks up the pace of fundraising this month, the front-runner for her party's presidential nomination is holding back in some ways — a "just enough" strategy that her supporters say will pay off over time.

The goal when she files her first fundraising report next month is to post a number that reassures Democrats she will have the resources to compete with the eventual Republican nominee, but doesn't chase away the small-dollar donors who would make up her strongest base of support in the general election.

"Her approach has been smart, disciplined and focused on the long-term," said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who worked with hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer on one of Clinton's first fundraisers this year. Lehane said the 100-person reception sold out within 24 hours. "They easily could have put on a far bigger event of 1,000 people or more."

Clinton's supporters have tried to tamp down the expectations for the fundraising totals her campaign will disclose next month, when she and the other declared candidates for president will report how much they have raised through the end of June to the Federal Election Commission.

Unlike in 2008, Clinton is collecting money only for the primary contest, an amount capped at $2,700 per individual. If Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, she can return to her donors to ask for another $2,700 for the general election.

Since announcing her candidacy in mid-April, Clinton has raised at least $17 million, based on the number of people her campaign says have attended 49 fundraising events through Monday night. She held fundraisers Tuesday in Chicago and in St. Louis, where she raised money at Grant's Farm, a historic home owned by the Busch family, at an event hosted by beer heiress Trudy Busch Valentine.

Clinton is focused primarily on raising money for her actual campaign. Others have emphasized super PACs, which can accept donations of unlimited size but are prohibited from coordinating directly with the candidates they support. Republican Jeb Bush spent six months raising money for a super PAC before beginning traditional campaign fundraising. That approach has helped him amass as much as $100 million already.

Most of Clinton's fundraisers have also been smaller events at private homes, with audiences of no more than 250 people each giving the maximum. While backers says she could draw much larger crowds, many of the events have been half that size, putting the former secretary of state into what supporters say is her comfort zone.

"She was phenomenal," said John Morgan, a Florida attorney who hosted a 220-person reception last month at his home near Orlando. "She took a photo with every single guest."

The one-on-one time with donors, even if limited to a few minutes, is what inspires supporters to go beyond simply writing a check, Lehane said. "It's a re-investor approach. They'll go on to ask their friends to give."

Many of the biggest Democratic donors have already feted Clinton, or plan to in the next few weeks. Among them: billionaire Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and Chicago media billionaire Fred Eychaner.

And she's relied upon celebrities, too. "Spiderman" star Tobey Maguire held a backyard event last week that raised $500,000. On Wednesday, she'll appear with Bennett and Lady Gaga in New York. Next week, Bon Jovi will perform at his New Jersey home for Clinton and some of her donors.

Her staunchest supporters say attendees at such events are leaving with a sense of purpose.

"People aren't just writing checks. They are raising, too," said Andy Spahn, who connects Democrats to Hollywood money and helped with one of Clinton's most lucrative fundraising trips so far, a May 7 visit to Los Angeles packed with morning, noon and night events.

Among small donors — those who give $200 or less, usually online — Clinton has competition. The campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has suggested it has raised $8 million, with an average contribution amount of $40, through mid-June.

Yet Clinton is also applying some of the best practices of President Barack Obama, who raised almost 65 percent of the $33.2 million he collected in the first three months of his re-election campaign from small-dollar donors.

Her campaign this week has been promoting a raffle to attend dinner with Clinton. She is hawking cutesy souvenirs such as $30 red T-shirts that look like her go-to pantsuits. And the campaign has an array of $20 happy hours planned, including one Friday at Union Cafe in Columbus, Ohio.

Kiki McLean, a former 2008 Clinton campaign adviser, put on a happy hour Tuesday night in Washington. McLean said she has no official role with the campaign, but said small events such as hers encourage involvement.

"I want to make sure they are up to speed on what they can do as volunteers," McLean said, "just like me."


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