In the Hamptons This Summer, Campaign Fundraising Has Gone Virtual

While the online campaign pots keep growing, what has been lost (at least for this election) is less quantifiable.

“Nothing can replace the magic of meeting a presidential candidate barefoot in someone’s backyard eating pigs in a blanket,” says Pfizer’s chief corporate affairs officer and Democratic political bundler Sally Susman. “You could have a conversation that would change you. You’d come away feeling, bigger, taller, or better afterward. Zoom simply doesn’t pack the same punch.”

Live events are also a way to introduce new potential candidates to these seasoned fundraising veterans. Susman still remembers her first encounter with Stacey Abrams in Nantucket. “I’ll never forget that moment of being in the same room with her.”

On the other hand, Susman thinks the turn to virtual fundraising could be a catalyst for campaign-finance reform. Memorable as those backyard moments are, they certainly favor the elites. “Most people think there is too much money in politics, and maybe this will cause us to rethink the way we raise money,” she says. “It might be the end of the image of the smoke-filled room of politics.”  

Still, even with the wide-open window of Zoom fundraising, those with the big bucks get more access. Some Zoom calls are as large as 300, and others have only 10 to 12 people. Star-studded Democratic online events that feature big names like George Clooney or President Barack Obama still advertise a $100,000 “pre-event host committee clutch”—a small group of donors who get a few minutes with Biden ahead of the larger fundraiser. To sweeten the deal, it’s possible to have a virtual picture taken with Biden.

New Democratic fundraisers have raised the creative bar too. Singer-songwriter John Legend and actor Erich Bergen (who played Tea Leoni’s assistant, Blake, on Madam Secretary) recently produced a series of four one-hour performances to raise money for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Hold the House fund, which is focused on 30 congressional races.

The A-List performers Bergen and Legend garnered for these productions was as star-studded as they come, including Obama, Julia Roberts, Barbra Streisand, H.E.R., and Billy Porter, just to name a few. After giving levels ranging from $1,000 on the low end to $100,000 at top-tier, Bergen knew he had to provide something spectacular. Each supporter was emailed a password-protected link containing the special show.

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