Political Fundraisers Heat Up in August

Four Presidential Hopefuls Will Appear on the Island Over Next Three Weeks: Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Romney

By MIKE SECCOMBE

August, as everyone knows, is the high season of the fundraiser, particularly the political fundraiser, on the Vineyard, the time when those with party affiliations and deep pockets hobnob and write checks.

But the Island has never seen an August like this one. Over the coming couple of weeks four of the leading contenders for the next Presidency of the United States, plus one past President and the current chairman of the Democratic National Committee will all be here, seeking help to defray the astronomical cost of American democracy.

In rapid succession the Island will host events for presidential hopefuls Sen. Hillary Clinton (accompanied by Bill), Barack Obama, John Edwards, Mitt Romney and DNC chairman Howard Dean.

And apart from the sheer political weight of the people who are coming, the other distinguishing feature of this round of fundraisers is that they are not all happening under the radar.

Instead of the usual, discreet, high-cost private functions at the homes of some wealthy supporter or other, several are advertising their appearances and at least three of the Democrat-sponsored events will actually be pitched within the price range of ordinary people.

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The most popular ticket among them will clearly be the Making History event being organized by Clinton supporters for Saturday, August 25, starting at 4:30 p.m. at the Oak Bluffs Tabernacle. It sounds more like a rally-cum-concert-cum-family event than a fundraiser.

"A Vineyard Evening with Hillary and President William Jefferson Clinton," declares the paid advertisement, "with special guests Mary Steenburgen, Ted Danson and friends."

As for who the advertised friends will be, Ms. Steenburgen would not say when contacted on Wednesday, because the lineup of entertainment is not yet final. "But a wonderful wealth of people are lining up to perform," she said.

The cost of admission is $50, but those who want to bring the kids and sit on the lawns outside can come for free.

A similar event will be held on Nantucket on August 24.

The idea for the event came not from campaign headquarters, Ms. Steenburgen said, but "from some of us who felt we wanted an event that lots of people who love the Clintons on the Island could go to, that they could afford.

"When it got run by Hillary, she got really excited by it, because she loves the place, loves the Tabernacle."

Which may sound like standard political spiel, except for the Clintons' long association with the Island since the days when it served as the Summer White House, and the fact that in pure fund-raising terms it will be a pretty modest gig.

More serious money is likely to come from another, more standard fund-raiser the Clintons will attend, billed as a town hall conversation and reception at the home of Carol and Frank Biondi in Edgartown at 7 p.m. the same night. Attendance at the reception will cost $1,000 and those who also want the conversation will have to ante up $2,300 (the maximum an individual can contribute under the law).

Another variation on the theme of making the campaign accessible to ordinary people will be played out on Friday August 24 when John and Elizabeth Edwards come to the Island.

There will be a fundraiser at the home of Alex H. MacDonald and Maureen A. Strafford in Chilmark, with admission set at $50 a head.

"And for every additional $50 donation, people will be entitled to bring one guest," said Mr. MacDonald. It was hoped in that way to encourage people who might not otherwise come, particularly year-round Islanders.

Mr. MacDonald said the timing of the event is still being worked out, but it probably will start at 6 or 7 p.m. There might also be a high-cost exclusive function later, although that also is still in the works.

Conversation with the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean, will also come at a relatively reasonable ticket price. On Thursday, August 16 at 4:30 p.m., Vineyard Democrats will host a $50-a-head function at the home of Connie Borde on East Chop in pursuit of both funds and membership. Money raised will go to no particular candidate.

"This is about two things - money and commitment," Mrs. Borde said yesterday, reflecting the rising excitement as the Vineyard prepares to be a stage for national party fund-raising.

Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate currently second in the polls behind Hillary Clinton, also is down to attend a variety of events on the Island, although the planning seems less advanced than that of the Clinton campaign.

The one certainty is that there will be a fundraiser at the home of Judith and Ron Davenport in Oak Bluffs which will run from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, August 29.

Those who go will want deep pockets, however. It will cost $1,000 to attend the indoor function, $1,000 to attend the outdoor function (under a marquee outside) or $2,300 for both.

Senator Obama's campaign Web site also lists two other events, although no one in the Obama camp returned repeated calls this week to elaborate on the details or even confirm if they were going ahead.

One was described as a "book signing for Senator Obama, hosted by several regions of the Howard University Alumni Association" at 2 p.m. on August 23 in Oak Bluffs. The site said nine people had registered so far. Although it was on his Web site, it also said the campaign office had yet to confirm it would go ahead.

The other possible event was scheduled to run from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on August 30 at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. No cost is stipulated and as of Thursday afternoon, the site showed one confirmed attendee.

Mitt Romney, one of the front runners for the Republican presidential nomination, will hold his first fund-raiser on the Island next Saturday, August 18, at the home of Kate and Jim Sims in Oak Bluffs.

The cost of entry is lower than either of his two Democratic rivals. It will cost $500 a head to attend the general reception, which starts at 7 p.m. Those who contribute $1,000 will attend what is termed a leadership reception, starting at 6:30 p.m., and those who pay $2,300 will have a photo opportunity added.

Although he is a former Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney is a virtual stranger to the Island, unlike predecessors William Weld and Paul Cellucci, who both made official visits to the Vineyard nearly every year when they held office. Mr. Romney's campaign Web site indicates he will not be getting to know the place much better this time; he has no public events scheduled.