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Fundraising in Vacationland

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

As of the end of June, residents of Martha's Vineyard had given only $3,750 to candidates running in the 2008 presidential election. Most of it came from novelist Richard North Patterson ($2,300 to Democrat John Edwards and $1,000 to Republican John McCain).

But that was before this Saturday, when former Viacom chief executive Frank Biondi will open his $11 million waterfront home on the Massachusetts island for Hillary Rodham Clinton. Three days later, it's Barack Obama's turn, as Ron and Judy Davenport, the founders of Sheridan Broadcasting in Pittsburgh, host a high-priced meet-and-greet for the senator from Illinois at their $4.7 million Oak Bluff home.

As their well-heeled donors head off for vacation, leaders of the two political parties and their presidential candidates are following to the rarefied air of ritzy vacation spots along the coastal Northeast and exclusive resorts of the Mountain West.

The candidates are descending on elite resort towns in force. Clinton, Obama, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney all have fundraisers scheduled this month on another Massachusetts island, Nantucket. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean has hopped from Martha's Vineyard to the Hamptons in New York to Sun Valley, Idaho, and to Aspen, Colo., to raise money.

Most of these are pricey, invitation-only events catering to famous (but, more importantly, rich) summer-season residents. But could all these candidates be tapping out the available wealth? Last week, former ambassador to Portugal Elizabeth Bagley and her husband, Smith, went so far as to take out an ad in the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror (which boasts 30,000 readers at the peak of the season) urging people to buy tickets to the event at their stunning $13.3 million home on Eel Point Road.

"Space is very limited," the ad read, even as it asked islanders to join the Bagleys for "a town hall and reception with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and President William Jefferson Clinton." (She gets top billing these days.) The price: $1,000 for the reception and $2,300 to add the town hall conversation.

The ad rubbed some year-round residents the wrong way, says Tina Loftin, chairman of the Democratic town committee. "There were people who called me and thought she was doing a free event because she was doing a town meeting," Loftin said. They were crestfallen, she said, when it became clear the "town hall" would cost $2,300.

"It's insulting to call [it] what should be the most inclusive, the town meeting, when it is really the most exclusive," Loftin said. "And you can quote me on that."

-- Michael D. Shear

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