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It was a typically lazy August day on the holiday island of Martha’s Vineyard. Children were playing by the ocean, families were dining by the waterfront, and President Barack Obama and his family were enjoying the penultimate day of their holiday and relaxing on the beach. Lazy, that is, for everyone except Hillary Clinton.
Following a quick stop on neighbouring Nantucket, the Democratic presidential candidate was barrelling across the island in a motorcade as she made her way from one event to the next — a one-woman, selfie-taking, fundraising machine.
It was one part of a multi-stop tour that has taken her to wealthy enclaves across the country. In the 10 days to August 30, Mrs Clinton devoted seven full days to the endeavour, attending 20 separate events, some yielding seven-figure sums in two-hour windows.
In the final days of summer, Mrs Clinton is racing to raise the $1bn her advisers say she needs to defeat Donald Trump in November’s election, an amount comparable to what Mr Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney each raised in the 2012 contest.
Dennis Cheng, Mrs Clinton’s finance director, told campaign staff this month that they were halfway towards meeting their target, the Associated Press reported.
Building on the successful grass roots tactics used by primary rival Bernie Sanders, the Clinton campaign has stepped up its campaign to attract money from small donors, sending daily emails to supporters in recent days warning that the campaign was not “hitting [its] goals” in August.
The Clinton camp is keen to stress that the average donation size in July was just $44. But the whistle-stop tour of wealthy Martha’s Vineyard and the other big-name fundraisers underline how Mrs Clinton continues to rely heavily on establishment Democratic donors from the financial, technology and entertainment industries.
In California, she visited the home of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the former basketball star, and his wife Cookie, before dropping in at the Hollywood mansion of celebrity couple Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake, who at a 100-person event complete with a photo booth raised more than $3.3m.
Later, a select group of about 20 guests paid more than $200,000 each to dine with Mrs Clinton at the home of Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs. On Nantucket, they paid up to $27,000 to nibble on hors d'oeuvres at Innisfree, the estate owned by Elizabeth Bagley, the former US ambassador to Portugal.
By contrast Mr Trump has attended just a handful of fundraising events so far, despite raising $80m in July — only $10m less than Mrs Clinton.
Unlike Mrs Clinton’s, Mr Trump’s campaign has not given details of his fundraising schedule. It is known that he attended an event at the Cape Cod home of Bill Koch, the billionaire businessman. (Mr Koch’s better-known brothers Charles and David have declined to endorse the candidate.) While Mr Trump was set to hold a fundraiser in Rhode Island this week, that event was cancelled, the Providence Journal reported.
This lack of fundraisers has freed Mr Trump up to spend more time on the campaign trail, including recent appearances in Florida, Ohio and Mississippi. Mrs Clinton, by contrast, hosted just one public campaign rally between August 18 and 30.
Lynn Forester de Rothschild, chief executive of E.L. Rothschild and a prominent Clinton donor, said it was unfair to criticise Mrs Clinton for her use of high-end fundraisers, especially as the Democratic candidate was a vocal critic of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which overturned campaign financing limits.
“She has to raise the money that is necessary in this environment, until Citizens United is repealed and there’s the comprehensive campaign finance reform that Hillary has promised. You have to play by the rules and excel on every level. And one level is fundraising,” Lady de Rothschild said.
Mr Trump, she claimed, would have adopted a similar tactic had he been more successful in wooing wealthy donors. “He doesn’t have the kind of supporters that she has. He would have fundraisers all day long if he could fill a room,” she added.
Matt Bennett, co-founder of Third Way, a Democratic think-tank, said Mrs Clinton was following a path well trodden by previous presidential nominees, both Democratic and Republican.
“This [fundraising] is what you do in August. Voters aren’t paying attention. They're not watching television, they’re not going to rallies, they're not thinking about politics. And all your donors cluster in places that are easy to access, like The Hamptons,” Mr Bennett said.
The Hamptons is where Mrs Clinton has spent the past few days, attending six different fundraisers on Sunday and Monday, pulling in an estimated $14m. On Tuesday evening, she appeared at another Hamptons fundraiser, this one at the home of singer Jimmy Buffett, where VIP tickets, including premium seating and a private reception with the presidential candidate, cost $100,000 a piece. Jon Bon Jovi and Paul McCartney both gave performances.
According to one former aid, this week could be the last chance for Mrs Clinton to meet en-masse with rich donors before the campaign really kicks off following September’s Labor Day holiday. “It is a lot harder to do that after Labor Day when [the candidates] actually have to go to real places,” he quipped.
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