In a high-rise at the law offices of Akin Gump in Los Angeles on Thursday, the Hillary Clinton campaign ironed out the details on its first major Latino fundraiser of the election cycle, an October event aimed at Hispanic donors in the city, underscoring the importance it is putting on this crucial portion of the electorate.
The plan is to have the fundraiser serve as a major Latino kickoff event with 400 to 500 people in attendance and tickets at $2,700 each, though an exact date has not been chosen, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.
But as the campaign seeks to raise as much money as possible in the early stages of the election, with a $1 million goal for the event, some Latino donors are privately asking for more of a personal touch from the Clinton operation and wondering why more lower-dollar events with $250, $500, and $1,000 levels aren't happening.
The issue was front and center at the finance meeting Thursday, when attendees repeatedly pressed Jose Villarreal, the campaign's treasurer who sources say is informally running point on Latino fundraising, on including lower donation levels to energize Hispanic donors and bring them into the fold early on in the process. The idea they impressed upon him was that, while the campaign is trying to raise as much money as possible, it also is going to want Latinos to feel like they are a part of something, like they too have ownership of the campaign.
Villarreal sought to assure those at the meeting, saying the Los Angeles event won't be the first Latino fundraiser (two informal Latino fundraisers already happened in New Mexico and Texas) or the last one, and there will be plenty of opportunities to include lower dollar figures later on. As the meeting closed, Villarreal seemed open to a $1,000 level but not $500 or $250.
But besides those in the room, a Clinton campaign bundler echoed the concerns, saying they have Latinos who want to donate $500 but are feeling left out and craving a personal touch from the campaign.
The Clinton campaign told BuzzFeed News that the Los Angeles event is not confirmed.
"As we have said, we have held events hosted by Latinos and will continue to do so," said Clinton spokesperson Josh Schwerin. "Just as the potential event you have heard about is not final, other potential events being discussed with earlier dates and similar goals are also not finalized."
A separate Clinton campaign source disputed that this would be the first major Latino fundraiser, noting that one set for next week in McAllen, Texas may reach that level as well. But sources familiar with the meeting said the Los Angeles event was the one that would be marketed as Latino-focused by the campaign.
The source said that with affinity groups, the thinking is to do a first phase of people donating the maximum amount allowed, and then following it with a second phase that is mixed — some at $2,700 and some at lower levels like $500.
That plan is tougher in bigger markets, the source said, because there are more people who will write a $2,700 check, but the campaign is playing around with bigger venues that could accommodate different tiers. Whether the Los Angeles event features lower dollar amounts will depend on what happens this quarter. Summer is a tough time for fundraising, so the campaign may need higher dollar events in the fall.
The Clinton operation is currently building out plans to do more constituency events like Latino, African-American, and LGBT fundraisers after the summer, the source said.
A source who was at the meeting last week defended the campaign, saying that from a cash management point of view you want to get as many people as possible to donate the maximum amount right away, because if you give them the option not to, they won't.
The source added that the campaign is feeling the pressure from a Republican field that together is showing how much more money it has in play compared to her. Clinton, along with Democratic PAC Priorities USA, raised more than $63 million, a sum dwarfed by Jeb Bush's campaign and his Right to Rise PAC, which raised $114 million.
It is also unclear whether the campaign plans to bring someone on to handle Latino fundraising, something Villarreal is doing informally right now, though he is already the campaign treasurer. While Lorella Praeli, the prominent DREAMer activist who was hired by the campaign as Latino outreach director, is involved with some of these conversations with donors, the Clinton campaign source said Villarreal will continue to play a role because of the connections he brings to the operation.
There is also the issue of raising money from Latinos when Clinton isn't in the room, something that often falls to high-profile Hispanic surrogates like celebrities and musicians. The source who defended the campaign's approach noted that there are surrogates who want to be used but have not been approached as of yet.
In 2012, actress Eva Longoria worked with current DNC Finance Chair Henry Muñoz and Andrés W. López, a lawyer from Puerto Rico, to raise $32 million with the Futuro Fund. The group now works with the Democratic-aligned Latino Victory Project.
Ralph Patino, a Cuban-American donor in Miami who has raised $30,000 for Clinton, said the campaign already has a grassroots movement underway. "The Hillary campaign is inclusive of the lower-figured donors," he said. And, moving forward, "They will be invited just as everybody else will."
A Latino source who already maxed out said the campaign has been consistent, asking all groups to donate at the $2,700 level, adding that there will be plenty of opportunities later on "to press the flesh" and meet Clinton at $500 and $1,000 events.
But there is the question among those opposed to this approach over whether Latinos, who represent a crucial voting bloc and could be the difference in the election — but might not be able to donate the max — should be treated differently, engaged and energized early on to show that the campaign values them.
Eddie Escobedo Jr., the son of longtime Latino activist and Clinton supporter Eddie Escobedo, who died in 2010, is an influential activist in his own right and runs the Spanish-language El Mundo newspaper in Las Vegas. He maxed out to Clinton.
He attended her major immigration event in Las Vegas on May 5 and then a private cocktail reception at the home of Brian Greenspun, a Clinton ally who runs the Greenspun Media Group (which includes the Las Vegas Sun, Las Vegas Weekly, and Las Vegas Magazine).
While he loved the opportunity to once again meet and take a picture with Clinton, this time with his wife by his side, Escobedo Jr. said he is familiar with the complaint about lower dollar figure donating, having heard it from local businessmen itching to attend an event with her, if the price is right.
"Money is tight with everybody," he said, laughing. "People want to be involved, they want to give the money, but the campaign is very strict with their donation policy right now."
Adrian Carrasquillo is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
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