Fund-raising Fatigue: High-powered Political Events Bring Luminaries, Hassle For Neighbors

As of last week, President Obama had attended 285 fund-raisers during his first term in office, according to data compiled by Brendan J. Doherty, an assistant professor of political science at the U.S. Naval Academy and the author of The President’s Permanent Campaign. In comparison, George W. Bush attended 173, Bill Clinton 167, the elder Bush 137 and Ronald Reagan 80. And although Mr. Doherty does not tally the totals of the presidential challengers, they would likely mirror the same trend—one that he describes as an unintended consequence of our campaign finance system and the fallout from the Citizens United decision.

Pressed by residents frustrated with frequent queues for the elevator, a number of co-op and condo boards have taken a stricter stance on parties.

Eva Talel, a real estate attorney with Strook, Strook & Lavan, told us that party house rules (as in “house rules on parties” not “this party house rules”) have become de rigueur at many of the city’s swankier buildings. Rules commonly limit the frequency and size of events and demand written notice in advance, with guest lists to spare the doorman from having to buzz 75 people up. In addition, some forbid armed security guards beyond the lobby and mandate that residents pay for additional building staff to supervise arrivals, operate the elevator and check coats.

“The rules came about as a result of a problem,” Ms. Talel said. “I imagine there have always been political fund-raisers, but I think the magnitude of them is increasing, and more of them are taking place in New York City.”

While such regulations were virtually nonexistent as recently as 15 years ago, Ms. Talel told us that most of New York’s more upscale buildings now have them. Larger apartments are being created, which makes it easier for residents to host good-sized gatherings. Also, some residents with multiple homes are rather free about letting other people use their apartments. Such generosity is not always appreciated by the other shareholders; an increasingly common house rule is that a shareholder must be present at his or her own party.

Also recommended, if not required: extending a no-contribution-required invitation to your immediate neighbors and tipping the doormen generously for their trouble.

Of course, for the public at large, there’s no compensation for the roadblocks and traffic jams that accompany candidates’ visits, inconveniences that can breed resentment, especially since candidates aren’t coming to woo normal New Yorkers, whose votes are all but cast in stone. But at least the hoi polloi can enter a contest to win a ticket to one of these exclusive events—a brilliant faux-populist strategy that eases the age-old tension between hobnobbing with the rich and remaining appealingly down-to-earth in the eyes of voters. Leveraging the allure of exclusive events also makes a lot of money—The New York Times reported that of the $15 million a private fund-raiser at George Clooney’s home raised for Mr. Obama, more than half came from the online contest.

Even famously jaded New Yorkers get a little giddy about catching a glimpse of the president on his way to the kind of exclusive event they’ll probably never be invited to.

“I thought it was pretty exciting to have the president come through my neighborhood,” said West Village resident and longtime Howard Stern show contributor Joey Boots, who watched the motorcade pass by on its way to Sarah Jessica Parker’s $40,000-a-plate dinner. “I think everyone in the neighborhood was pretty excited.”

And as for the ensuing traffic jam?

“The pope was much worse,” remarked John Beerbower. “He was certainly very picturesque, but he did clog things up here.”

kvelsey@observer.com