October 27, 2016

Hillary Clinton heads to California for closed-door meetings with donors

Democratic politicians have long made the pilgrimage to Hollywood but have recently added the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley as crucial fundraising targets

Hillary Clinton began two days of closed-door meetings in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley on Thursday – two areas that account for a large portion of her donor base and will be ever more crucial as the primary season begins.

Democratic politicians have long made the pilgrimage to Hollywood but have recently added the newly minted and newly ambitious young entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley as crucial fundraising targets – and in turn, Silicon Valley is beginning to realise its own political power.

The former secretary of state will attend a morning event in San Gabriel on Thursday for the launch of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Hillary, along with representative Judy Chu, the first Chinese American woman elected to Congress, who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

Staying in San Gabriel, Clinton will then attend a $2,700-per-head lunch hosted by Chu. “We want to show this tremendous support for Hillary Clinton and acknowledge her long relationship with us,” Chu said. “Bernie Sanders attended a meeting with our caucus and I do give him credit for that, but Hillary has gone above and beyond in her outreach.”

Several Asian American politicians will endorse Clinton at the event, which will raise approximately $650,000, Chu said. She added that Clinton’s positions on immigration reform and education match with Asian and Pacific Islander priorities. She also said this demographic group has doubled in the US to 4 million people and could tip elections in swing states such as Virginia and Nevada.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, a politics professor at the University of California, Riverside who specialises in civic participation, immigration and ethnicity, said the lunch event represents more than just fundraising.

“It’s an important signal to the Asian American community that she will try to win their support and won’t take it for granted,” he said, adding that it’s a constituency that overwhelmingly backed her in 2008 and would likely do so again. “This will be very friendly territory for Hillary Clinton.”

Young Asian Americans had shown enthusiasm for Sanders but it was unclear if that would translate into votes, Ramakrishnan said.

In the afternoon Clinton will attend a “family celebration” event at LA’s Jim Henson Studios, hosted by Lisa Henson, a film and TV producer and the daughter of studio founder Jim Henson. The event is co-hosted by sculptor and illustrator Dave Pressler and costs $500 for an “individual” ticket, $1,000 for a “friend” ticket, $2,700 for a “champion” ticket, and a $10,000 donation to host.

Later in the evening she will visit the home of Russell Goldsmith, a banker, and his wife Karen Mack, a writer and television producer, for a reception. It is priced $2,700 per ticket, rising to $50,000 to meet and be photographed with the candidate. Financier Warren Buffett is due to attend.

On Friday, the former senator from New York arrives in San Francisco, where the burgeoning scene of young, socially aware newly minted monied tech people in Silicon Valley are beginning to overtake the VIPs of Beverly Hills in terms of their political influence.

“The Hollywood establishment used to be the mainstay of Democratic donors but now Silicon Valley is just as important, if not more so,” said Melinda Jackson, a politics professor at San Jose State University who follows presidential races. “Traditionally Silicon Valley was less engaged – that went along with its libertarian vibe. But that has definitely changed. Silicon Valley is definitely stepping up as it sees the numerous ways that government affects the technology industry. So they want a voice.”

Her first stop is a “Conversations with Hillary” event in the city hosted by Diana Nelson, the chair of the Carlson group of hotels, before heading to Silicon Valley for a fundraiser in Palo Alto hosted by tech venture capital investor Greg Sands and his wife Sarah.

According to a Los Angeles Times investigation in September, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area account for 84% of the $44m total California donations to Republican and Democratic political candidates. Clinton has been one of the most prolific fundraisers in both LA and the Bay Area. By September, Hollywood had raised $11m for the former secretary of state; the Bay Area wasn’t far behind, with $9.6m.

The biggest donors to her Pac, Priorities USA Action, are still linked to the entertainment sector: Haim Saban, the founder of entertainment-oriented investment group Saban Capital, and his wife Cheryl, both of whom have given $1m to the Clinton campaign. Film director Steven Spielberg has also donated $1m, as has DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg; while Star Wars director JJ Abrams has donated $500,000.

But Silicon Valley isn’t far behind. Former Golden West Financial CEO Herbert Sandler has donated $1m to Priorities USA Action; Stephen Silberman, a computer magnate and philanthropist, has donated $800,000; and Mark Heising, of San Francisco-based equity firm Medley Partners, has donated $500,000.

Representatives of the Sabans, Spielberg, Abrams, and Sandler, did not respond to requests as to whether they would meet with Clinton on this trip.

In fact, the whole trip is largely shrouded in secrecy. The guest lists for the events are secret, and the Clinton campaign did not respond to requests for details. “She may be vulnerable to criticism that many of her fundraising events are exclusive – you can’t get in unless you pay thousands of dollars,” Jackson said. “So that could be seen to be catering to the elites within the Democratic party, and a bit hypocritical given that income inequality has been part of her campaign.”

“But she’s doing what all candidates do: go where the money is,” she added.

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