Campaign fundraisers are hitting high notes at Taylor Swift and Beyoncé concerts

Forget dark restaurants and hotel ballrooms. The hippest spot for a congressional fundraiser these days is at Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour or a concert stop on Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour. Some lawmakers are crazy in love with the idea, one they know all too well.

In a twist on the meet-and-greet schmooze fests that routinely dot the fundraiser party circuit, some members of Congress are shaking hands — or exchanging friendship bracelets — with donors and others at concert venues, in VIP boxes or suites. Just as the Federal Reserve credits Swift’s tour for boosting the tourism industry, and the overall economy, the Eras and Renaissance World Tours have been a means for lawmakers to boost their own campaign coffers.

These fundraisers are not necessarily illicit affairs. Candidates are generally allowed to spend their campaign funds as they wish, including renting out corporate space for fundraisers at market rate. In these cases, the event spaces just happen to be at venues for entertainers headlining the highest grossing concert tours in history. And those spaces can cost thousands of dollars.

The concerts, however, do not appear to be raking in the cash for lawmakers.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) rented a suite at Swift’s second Las Vegas show for a March fundraiser that he estimated netted profits between $20,000 and $30,000, after expenses. His campaign reported spending more than $17,500 on the ticket resale platform StubHub in January, and more than $6,000 for catering at the concert venue, Allegiant Stadium. Tickets to the fundraiser went for $2,500 each, according to an invite reviewed by POLITICO. Swalwell could not remember the exact number of attendees, but estimated there were between 12-40 people.

“No one leaves a Taylor Swift concert sad,” he said. “It’s like one of the happiest, most uplifting, uniting experiences I think anyone can be a part of, and my job, you don’t get a lot of that.”

Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) estimated her May fundraiser at a Swift concert in Philadelphia netted $25,000 for her campaign. About 18 people attended, she said. Tickets went for $3,000 a person, or $5,000 for two. Some attendees paid less than that, and some paid more.

“I gotta come clean: my granddaughter inspired it,” she said of the 12-year-old, Aubrey, a “certified Swiftie.”

Aubrey, her mother, and her stepmother tagged along to the fundraiser, too. Some campaign staff were disappointed they did not make the cut, Dean said. One of her senior staffers said there had been a bit of rancor over selecting a Swift concert for the fundraiser instead of a Beyoncé Renaissance World Tour stop. (Perhaps those staffers could have aided Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester when her campaign held a fundraiser at a Beyoncé concert. The Delaware Democrat declined to comment, through a spokesperson, on details of the event.)

For Swalwell, his reputation as a Swiftie goes back years. (“Five years ago, I was bopping ‘Cruel Summer,’” he said. “Subpoena my playlist.”) In 2020, his team was the first to partner with Swift for a political ad, getting her permission to use her song, “Only the Young.” It depicted youth at protests and President Donald Trump and allies against the lyrics, “The big bad man and his big bad clan.”

In addition to his Las Vegas fundraiser, Swalwell appeared at fundraisers at Swift concerts for Dean in Philadelphia and for Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-Pa.) in Pittsburgh. His campaign reported spending over $1,200 for food and beverages at Swift’s Philadelphia venue. Swalwell also held a second fundraiser around the Eras Tour movie that premiered last month, he said.

Some officials interviewed maintained there was a unique benefit to engaging with donors outside the typical D.C. reception circuit. Karl Thurmond, who co-chairs California Democratic Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove’s finance committee, said the concert fundraisers allow donors to get to know the politician on a more relaxed and personal level. The Kamlager-Dove campaign held a fundraiser at a Beyoncé concert in September — on the same night as the singer’s birthday. The group at the event spotted Kris Jenner and other celebrities by their suite, Thurmond said.

“Everybody was whooping and hollering, including the congresswoman,” he said of the “about 16” people who attended. “Everybody was dancing in our suite.”

That their campaigns were able to snag tickets — which can cost several hundred dollars each — over many beleaguered fans unable to grab some at a reasonable price on Ticketmaster has not been lost on lawmakers. Congress and the Department of Justice have been reviewing monopoly concerns around Ticketmaster after the botched pre-sale for Swift tickets. The White House has also scrutinized the so-called junk fees associated with purchases on platforms that sell concert tickets.

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.), who years ago hosted a Cher concert fundraiser, knows firsthand about getting swallowed up in the mayhem around concert ticket sales. She recalled how she recently tried to purchase Beyoncé tickets — as she was voting on the House floor — in the hopes of setting up a fundraising event. But her credit card kept getting declined, she said. Ultimately, she ended up with four seats, all of which were given to donors; Torres had to miss the concert because of district visits.

“It is truly a nightmare, and I totally get it, how it was incredibly frustrating for the fans to get tickets,” she said. “I kept having to run in and out because there’s no reception on the floor.”

Torres said that she generally engages with lobbyists in her office to talk about what she called “dry business.” And typical “cattle call” fundraising receptions provide little opportunity to talk to attendees, she added. But at a concert, people tend to loosen up. They’re also more casual, forgoing their suits and often dancing, she said.

These kinds of events are, to a certain extent, nothing new. In 2015, The Washington Post reported that members of Congress were inviting donors to Taylor Swift’s 1989 Tour at Nationals Park. That mix of lawmakers appeared to be more bipartisan than the group attending the most recent Beyoncé and Swift tours. An initial POLITICO review of campaign disbursements only turned up Democrats’ fundraisers.

When asked why Democrats may be more likely to host their fundraisers at the Eras Tour, Dean said she wasn’t sure. But her granddaughter, Aubrey, the “certified Swiftie,” chimed in with a possible reason.

She noted that in Swift’s “Miss Americana” documentary, she called Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) “Trump in a wig.”

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