‘I Believe in Capitalism’: Kamala Harris Courts Big Donors in the Hamptons

Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou and Amanda Gordon
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‘I Believe in Capitalism’: Kamala Harris Courts Big Donors in the Hamptons

(Bloomberg) -- Teslas and Maseratis lined the street as Kamala Harris greeted guests sipping drinks from plastic cups with her name on them and eating cinnamon sugar donuts from Dreesen’s at a fund-raiser hosted by movie executive Jamie Patricof and his wife Kelly as the summer of Democratic fund-raisers rolled on in East Hampton.

The senator and former California prosecutor assured donors “I believe in capitalism” during a jam-packed weekend of pitching her plan to save the middle class. Harris is looking to raise enough money to keep her campaign fueled through the next debates in September and beyond.

She also had events on Martha’s Vineyard, the Massachusetts island that is a playground for celebrities, including the Obamas, Bill Clinton and David Letterman, on Friday and Saturday. Tickets ranged from $100 to $2,800.

And she wasn’t alone.

A world away from the Iowa State Fair and its array of deep fried food-on-a-stick just a week earlier, 2020 Democratic hopefuls are spending the final weeks of summer raising cash in the enclaves of the rich and famous.

Harris’s event on Sunday night went head to head with one at musician Jon Bon Jovi’s house for Cory Booker. Pete Buttigieg will be in the Hamptons over Labor Day weekend. Joe Biden, who’ll be in the Hamptons next weekend, has already hit up Cape Cod, Aspen and Sun Valley, Idaho.

In the woods of Water Mill, at the home of public-relations executive Michael Kempner, Aretha Franklin and Alicia Keys songs played in the background as former Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards, Centerview Partners’ Blair Effron and Citigroup’s Ray McGuire waited to hear Harris’s pitch while would-be donors grazed on mini pizza.

“You got to go out and meet all the candidates,” said Quad Group chief strategist Peter Borish, who attended one of the five fundraisers Harris held on the eastern tip of Long Island on Sunday. But it was Harris’s chance to meet big Wall Street names: Rohatyn Group CEO Nicolas Rohatyn, Blackstone’s Bennett Goodman, Alibaba executive J Michael Evans, formerly at Goldman Sachs, and Chad Leat, formerly at Citigroup.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, leading lights of the Democrats’ progressive wing, weren’t around. They’ve pledged not to take big-dollar donations, at least during the primary season.

“Democrats can either cede the field to the Republicans or we can fight. And you can’t win this fight without the appropriate resources,” said Kempner. He said of Harris, “She is going to have a very strong fundraising weekend.”

Harris has positioned herself as a moderate candidate in the Democratic spectrum that can appeal both to the wealthy and the working class, attendees said. Even in the backyards of the millionaires, Harris’s message remained the same as in rural Iowa. She continued to push her ‘ 3 A.M. agenda,” by which she means the issues that keep middle-class Americans up at night.

“I believe in capitalism, but capitalism is not working for most people,” Harris said on the patio steps of the Patricof house, looking out at a peach orchard among flower and herb beds. She said she recognized people who’ve become successful by working hard and following rules, but that the middle class needs help.

Harris again tried to clarify her stance on health care, a topic that tripped her up in the early Democratic debates. “I have not been comfortable with Bernie’s plan,” she said of Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal, which she signed on as a co-sponsor when it was introduced. She explained how a Harris administration would leave room for private insurance.

The weekend’s turnout and money came from guests arriving by luxury cars, and at least two by bicycle. Shoe designer Steve Madden pulled up in a black convertible Corvette. They ranged in style and age -- men dressed in linen, jeans and Bermuda shorts, and some women in Valentino and Alexander McQueen.

By sunset Sunday, Harris, traveling in a black Escalade SUV, was at the Southampton home of Frank Baker, who runs a private-equity firm focused on big tech. Among the guests were fashion and finance couple Lisa and Richard Perry and Lauren Santo Domingo, founder of the designer fashion website Moda Operandi.

And at the Sagaponack home of Kirkland & Ellis LLP partner Jon Henes and wife Pamela, children made KAMALA posters as adults sampled rose in a can from a pink truck draped with flower garlands, before the Henes’ son Sam, 17, introduced the candidate.

Some of the donors Harris was courting have supported her rivals. Goodman has contributed to both Biden and Buttigieg, and Effron, who gave Harris $2,800 in May, donated to six other campaigns as well.

The Monogram shop keeps track of the number of cups sold that bear each candidate’s name, an unofficial gauge of candidate favorability among Hamptonites. So far, they indicate a preference for Buttigieg, the moderate, openly-gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

Front-runner Biden raised money at the waterfront residence of Sherry and Alan Leventhal, the chairman of Beacon Capital Partners, in Cape Cod this weekend. In Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on Friday, he mingled in the backyard of Peter Shields, the managing partner of D.C. law firm Wiley Rein LLP, while nibbling on miniature crab cakes and pigs in a blanket.

Even though she isn’t raising money in this milieu, Warren’s name still resonates. At last visit, all Warren cups at the Monogram shop were sold out.

(Updates with other donations in 17th paragraph.)

--With assistance from Bill Allison.

To contact the reporters on this story: Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou in East Hampton at megkolfopoul@bloomberg.net;Amanda Gordon in East Hampton at agordon01@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at wbenjaminson@bloomberg.net, Ros Krasny

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