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Clinton’s campaign trail leads to moneyed enclaves

Hillary Clinton raised about $143 million in August.
Hillary Clinton raised about $143 million in August.(Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

NEW YORK — At a private fund-raiser Tuesday night at a waterfront Hamptons estate, Hillary Clinton danced alongside Jimmy Buffett, Jon Bon Jovi, and Paul McCartney, and joined in a singalong finale to “Hey Jude.”

“I stand between you and the apocalypse,” a confident Clinton declared to laughs, exhibiting a flash of self-awareness and humor to a crowd that included Calvin Klein and Harvey Weinstein and for whom the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency is dire.

Trump has pointed to Clinton’s noticeably scant schedule of campaign events this summer to suggest she has been hiding from the public. But Clinton has been more than accessible to those who reside in some of the country’s most moneyed enclaves and are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to see her.

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In the last two weeks of August, Clinton raked in roughly $50 million at 22 fund-raising events, averaging around $150,000 an hour, according to a New York Times tally.

And while Clinton has faced criticism for her failure to hold a news conference for months, she has fielded hundreds of questions from the ultrarich in places like the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard, Beverly Hills, and Silicon Valley.

“It’s the old adage, you go to where the money is,” said Jay S. Jacobs, a prominent New York Democrat.

Clinton raised about $143 million in August, the campaign’s best month yet. At a single event Tuesday in Sagaponack, N.Y., 10 people paid at least $250,000 each to meet her, raising $2.5 million.

If Trump appears to be waging his campaign in rallies and network interviews, Clinton’s second presidential bid seems to amount to a series of high-dollar fund-raisers with public appearances added to the schedule when they can be fit in. Last week, for example, she diverged just once from her packed fund-raising schedule to deliver a speech.

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Robby Mook, the Clinton campaign manager, said 2.3 million people had contributed to the campaign, which has significantly increased the number of donors who give online in small increments.

The public has gotten used to seeing Clinton’s carefully choreographed appearances and her somewhat halting speeches and TV interviews over the course of the campaign, but donors this summer have glimpsed an entirely different person.

It is clear from interviews with more than a dozen attendees of Clinton’s finance events this summer and a handful of pictures and videos of her at the closed gatherings that Clinton, often described as warm and personable in small settings, whoever the audience, can be especially relaxed, candid, and even joyous in this company.

Clinton’s aides have gone to great lengths to project an image of her as down-to-earth and attuned to the challenges of what she likes to call “the struggling and the striving.” She began her campaign last year riding in a van to Iowa from New York and spent much of last summer hosting round-table discussions with a handful of what her campaign called “everyday Americans” in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Yet some of the closest relationships Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, have are with their longstanding contributors. If she feels most at ease around millionaires, within the gilded bubble, it is in part because they are some of her most intimate friends.

“It’s like going to a wedding or a bar mitzvah: You catch up,” explained Mitchell Berger, a Democratic donor in Florida, about the familial nature of the events. Berger would know: He has been raising money for the Clintons since he held a fund-raiser for Bill Clinton the day after he announced his candidacy in 1991.

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The campaign’s finance team is led by Dennis Cheng, previously the chief fund-raiser for the Clinton Foundation.

Cheng, who attends the events with Clinton, offers donors a number of contribution options that provide them and their families varying levels of access to Clinton. John Morgan, a Florida lawyer and donor, described Cheng as “the master concierge.”