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What Do You Do When Hillary’s Coming to Dinner?

How to plan a high-dollar fundraiser.

 

Editor's Note: This is one of many stories about politics that San Francisco is publishing over the next month, all part of the October 2016 Democracy Issue. To peruse the rest of the issue's contents, and to read stories as they become available online, click here. 

 
As the Beltway’s unofficial ATM, California plays host to hundreds of fundraisers between the conventions and Election Day. “On any given night, there’s a high likelihood that there’s a fundraiser happening somewhere in the Bay Area,” says political consultant Scott Drexel. Not every single one is a hot-ticket event, but for the exclusive ones, the haul can range from $500,000 to $3.5 million. These aren’t your typical dinner parties: They’re highly choreographed affairs with their own rules and protocol. Here’s how it all unfolds.

8-12 weeks in advance
Candidate (or candidate’s surrogate) asks a big donor to host. Best days: Wednesday and Thursday. Worst day: Friday. (Donors likely have other social commitments.) Host and campaign officials draw up the invite list. It’s a small world: Of the roughly 300 Dem donors who regularly attend Bay Area fundraisers, an average of 35 show up at any given event.

6-8 weeks in advance
Calls or invitations—often a PDF attached to an email—go out. Hosts like to be on the DL; they don’t typically want their address on a piece of mail. Guests usually make their contribution in advance. The max per individual? A $353,000 check to a victory fund.

3 ½ weeks in advance
Menu planning begins. Since campaign finance rules cap the hospitality budget at $1,000 per adult in the hosting household, campaigns go heavy on the hors d’oeuvres, and the bar is usually beer and wine only.

3 weeks in advance
If the party’s in a residential neighborhood, the host or campaign will often book a special-event company to handle valet parking.

2 weeks in advance
If the president or VP is the guest of honor, attendees must send their full name, date and place of birth, Social Security number, and occupation to the Secret Service for vetting.

1 week in advance
For an Obama or Biden appearance, the campaign advance team pays a visit. They usually get permits for street closures and knock on neighbors’ doors to ask for Secret Service roof access.

2-5 days in advance
No more RSVPs allowed.

D-Day
For presidents, VPs, and nominees, the Secret Service approves details down to the door the candidate will walk through. It’s all about minimizing movement. 

2-3 hours in advance
The campaign arrives early and sets up a “hold room,” an offstage area that sometimes not even the host can enter. The guest of honor and staffers use it for briefings, prep, and last-minute reminders.

Pro Tip: Hosts who feed the Secret Service score major points—and may be in for a smoother night.

30-60 minutes during the event
Doors close. If you miss the cutoff time, the Secret Service won’t let you in, no matter how much you’ve shelled out. The candidate arrives and spends a few minutes with the hosts before making an entrance.

2-5 minutes
The polite amount of time to monopolize the guest of honor at a small gathering. (At a big gathering, it drops to just a few seconds.) Hogging the candidate “really rubs people the wrong way,” says Drexel.

2 minutes
The typical time the guest of honor has to eat. “A lot of the time the host will thank everyone for coming and ask a really long-winded question, just to give the candidate time to take a few bites of food,” says Drexel.

5 seconds
The amount of time it takes to get a selfie with the honoree. Hillary is very pro-selfie, says Drexel: “Half the pictures of her at events are people taking pictures with her.”


Originally published in the October issue of
San Francisco

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