First lady Jill Biden is coming to Mercer Island on September 22 for the second pricey Biden Victory Fund fundraiser in as many months. Tickets begin at $2,500 to be an “attendee” and rise to $25,000 to “host” the late afternoon reception.
Vice President Kamala Harris was hosted last month by Microsoft President Brad Smith for an event where prices began at $5,000. She also appeared at McKinstry, the energy efficiency company, to tout climate provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act.
The two events signal Washington’s role in presidential campaigns. The state has voted Democratic since 1984 and was last seriously contested by George W. Bush in 2000. Voters aside, we have technology money to be tapped. President Obama came here almost exclusively to raise money, usually at entrepreneurs’ homes in Medina and Hunts Point. The going price for one event was $17,700.
Joe Biden held two fundraisers here soon after announcing his bid for the White House in 2019, but his campaign spent only about $600 on the Evergreen State’s 2020 presidential primary. (He beat Bernie Sanders anyway.) The host of Biden’s first fundraiser, Seattle communications executive Roger Nyhus, was later nominated to be U.S. Ambassador to Barbados, St. Kitts & Nevis, and Antigua in the Caribbean.
The guests at big-ticket events, such as for an Obama dinner at the art-filled home of Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal, get to ask questions and engage in conversation with the visiting luminary. A press pool is allowed in only long enough to hear opening stump-speech remarks, and then ushered out when the frank talk begins and the tin cup rattles.
Very occasionally, there is a bargain, since as a $25-a-head 2016 reception for Bernie Sanders at the Comet Tavern on Capitol Hill. One 2020 aspirant, Pete Buttigieg, held both low and high budget events, squeezing three into one visit.
Both parties play the game. The 2012 Republican ticket did not contest the Northwest. Yet, one day in the fall, nominee Mitt Romney flew in unannounced for Portland and Seattle fundraisers. Then-GOP State Chair Kirby Wilbur later fumed that Romney’s campaign was taking resources out of the state and not sending any money back to fuel his voter-identification drive in a hotly contested gubernatorial race.
Presidential and Vice-Presidential visits often include an “official” event, which allows travel costs to be billed to the taxpayers. Then-Vice President Dick Cheney came through for Everett and Spokane fundraisers but stopped off at military bases. Similarly, President Bush did an event in Medina.
How will the loot raised at the Jill Biden reception be allocated? Here’s what the invite says: “The Biden Victory Fund accepts contributions of up to $929,600 from a person or $415,000 from a (PAC). The first $6,600/$10,000 from a person/PAC will be allocated to Biden for President, with the first $3,300/$5,000 designated for the primary election and the next $3,300/$5,000 designated for the next general election. The next $41,300/$15,000 from a person/PAC will be allocated to the Democratic National Committee. The next $510,000/$255,000 from the person/PAC will be equally split among the (50) state parties.”
Being in the press pool has its pleasures and dangers. You get to whiz through Seattle and across Lake Washington, as motorcycle cops speed your path by holding up traffic. (Two have been injured in recent years, one on an Al Gore visit and the second while Harris was in town.) The best holding rooms feature fine art. The worst, however, was a cold garage with lukewarm coffee when Bill Clinton was raising money for the missus’ Senate campaign at the Madrona home of Howard Schultz, the Starbucks CEO.
The one hazard is when a computer-stained wretch exhibits familiarity. Once we were ushered into a dinner at the Sinegals. The table closest to the press pen was occupied by Zumiez co-founder Tom Campion and spouse Sonya Campion. They had hosted Obama on an earlier visit. The Campions, civic and conservation activists and longtime friends, grinned at me. I blew a kiss to Sonya Campion. However, Obama was in the line of fire, thought it was directed at him, and made a snarky remark.