The quieter side of campaign fundraising
For the power elite ” essentially anyone with money, and lots of it ” political fundraisers aren’t done in the gymnasium at the local high school. From intimate gatherings to larger cocktail parties, sometimes candidates like to rub elbows in private with the people who give lavishly to their campaigns, because it’s also likely the donors will cut another big check while sipping fine wines together.
Fundraisers with millionaires on the guest list aren’t usually publicized, and often the local party officials aren’t even aware such events are happening in their backyard.
There’s evidence that some of these exclusive functions happen in the valley ” Rod and Beth Slifer alone have hosted President Ford, former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer and former Congressman Scott McInnis. Harry and Susan Frampton have hosted Sen. Ken Salazar twice.
And while the local political parties might not be aware of all of the less publicized events, party officials say the national parties and the valley’s wealthy campaign contributors generally reach out and send the local parties invitations.
But Ali Hasan, a Beaver Creek resident who is running for state House District 56, says the national and local parties might like to think they’re all one big happy family, but they’re not.
“It’s a competition,” he says.
The competition is for dollars. The national parties typically want money raised for federal government candidates, while local parties do the same, but on a much smaller level. Money is one of the most important parts of campaigning, which was obvious in the recent battle between Sen. Barack Obama and the cash-strapped Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. And while the smaller donors can add up to hefty percentages of campaign funds, it’s the larger donors who can really pull through for a candidate during a short-notice stop through town.
The sheer scale of some fundraisers is what scares smaller donors away, says Debbie Marquez, a Democratic National Committeewoman representing Eagle County. That’s why she suspects a lot of the big-money fundraisers end up excluding the non-millionaires, but she doesn’t think it’s necessarily intentional.
“(Fundraisers are) not always isolated, but often with these big-dollar functions so many people won’t feel like they should attend because the donations they are asking for are such high amounts,” Marquez says. “They don’t think to ask, ‘Hey, can I join with just my $100 (donation)?'”
The local parties aren’t real visible around the county, which is another reason they might not receive invitations to some of the larger fundraising events. These types of fundraisers don’t happen nearly as often in the valley as they do in Pitkin County though, she says. But when they do, it often depends on the people hosting the event as to whether the local party is included.
Wealthy donors end up hosting campaign events in their homes because the campaign managers keep tabs on potential donors, says Dick Wadhams, chairman of the state Republican party. That’s how campaigns seek out donors in any area, be it particularly affluent or not, he says. They have lists of people they know they can count on, and often that means people who have consistently given bulky checks.
When the hosts are true locals, as with Rod and Beth Slifer, and Harry and Susan Frampton, the events are much more open to Vail Valley residents, Marquez says. The only times Marquez recalls hearing of events that took place without the local parties’ knowledge were when second-home owners hosted them and invited mostly out-of-towners.
“Those people just aren’t connected to the local party,” she says.
This disconnect is obvious. Randy Milhoan, the chair of the local Republican party, says he doesn’t think he recognized a single name in a recent Vail Daily article about local high-dollar campaign contributors. He’d love to meet them, though, and get them involved locally, he jokes.
Milhoan echoes Marquez’s views on why some smaller contributors might steer clear of these events. He remembers hearing that Sen. John McCain’s stated goal for a Denver fundraising event was $500,000 ” an amount that would be tough to raise in such a small place like Eagle County, regardless of its affluence, he says.
“I don’t run in those circles so I wouldn’t know,” he says. “But we have trouble raising money just for basic things.”
For the political fundraisers Rod and Beth Slifer have hosted, the campaigns would provide a list of people they wanted as guests, and Slifer says he and his wife could add to it if they wanted. He says they have also hosted a couple of events where the invitations were completely open to anyone who wanted to come.
The Framptons, who have hosted Sen. Ken Salazar twice, did more of a thank-you event for people who have given money to his campaign in the past. Susan Frampton says she and her husband didn’t invite anyone personally, but that the guests were all people Salazar’s staff wanted there.
“But a few people from the local party were there, actually,” she says.
Exclusivity is sometimes the result of timing, Hasan says. Politics run at such a fast pace that trying to schedule all these events and trying to coordinate them among the donors, candidates and parties can be tough, he says.
“The name of the game of politics is like ‘in-and-out, efficiently,'” Hasan says. “Do the event, shake as many hands as you can, kiss a ton of babies and then leave. And the littlest thing can delay that.”
He says that because of that, it makes sense that a big candidate could essentially come through town without the local party ever knowing.
“It’s unfortunate, but it makes sense,” he says.
When that happens, though, Hasan says it’s the sign of an arrogant and disorganized party.
Marquez says local parties can really benefit campaigns and the party as a whole, so it really doesn’t benefit anyone to exclude people. She says what a lot of candidates will do, as long as they can fit it into their busy schedules, is attend an event with the smaller donors while they’re in town for the big-dollar event.
“Those are very successful when they can be arranged,” Marquez says. “If more candidates organizing big donor events would consider that, I think it helps the local parties who always have a difficult time raising money.”
Lauren Glendenning can be reached for comment at 970.748.2983 or Lglendenning@vailtrail.com.