NEW YORK — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton Monday night held her first fundraiser since being named as President-elect Barack Obama‘s choice for Secretary of State, still aiming to erase the debt remaining from her presidential campaign against him.
A total amount raised was not available for the sold-out event, but as of her last Federal Election Commission filing the New York Democrat carried $7.6 million in debts to some of her top consultants and strategists.
The invitation for Monday night’s fundraiser at Manhattan Center Studios here — planned before she was nominated — noted that supporters who recruited at least 10 people to give the maximum $1,000 donation will get a “VIP seat upgrade and backstage photo with Hillary.”
Legally Mrs. Clinton can continue to collect money from supporters toward the debt relief even after she is confirmed, as expected, to be Mr. Obama’s Secretary of State.
A narrow exception for Cabinet members will even allow her to attend fundraisers to retire the debt, so long as she limits her remarks at the event to a brief expression of appreciation. Her campaign committee also legally can continue to solicit funds as long as the pitches do not come directly from Mrs. Clinton.
The fundraiser would have brought in at least $60,000 if each of the ballroom’s 1,200 seats were taken by $50 donors and as much as $1.2 million if each attendee donated the $1,000 maximum.
The tone of the evening was light-hearted, according to two participants present for the private fundraiser that did not allow for press to observe.
Mrs. Clinton joked at the fundraiser she won’t be able to keep the same early hours as her predecessor Condoleeza Rice.
According to a participant in the sold-out event, Mrs. Clinton talked about her recent two-hour dinner with Miss Rice, who rises at 4:45 a.m. each day for a 60-minute workout and goes to bed early.
“I don’t think I can take that advice, I think I am going to see what the world looks like from a later perspective,” Mrs. Clinton said, to laughs from the 1,200 donors in the audience.
Former President Bill Clinton served as the warm-up act, receiving a prolonged standing ovation as he offered praise for his wife.
According to one attendee, Manhattan resident Victor Armando Bernace, Mr. Clinton joked about the relief effort, saying Mrs. Clinton needs to get rid of the debt in the same way the federal government must pay off its debts.
“Ugly Betty” star America Ferrera served as a moderator for the 90-minute fundraiser, asking Mrs. Clinton questions that were submitted by supporters ahead of time.
Miss Ferrera, who traveled to seven states for the former first lady during the long Democratic primary season, told her that whenever she had a tough time she thinks of Mrs. Clinton.
“That is one lasting legacy,” Mrs. Clinton quipped, to laughter. “If you think you are having a hard day, just think of me.”
“That is not what I meant!” the young actress protested.
Miss Ferrera asked about her senate achievements, allowing Mrs. Clinton to talk about her work helping firefighters after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
“Their heroism was the rebuke to the evil visited on us and helping them sort out their legal issues and get them help was amazing,” she said.
When someone in the audience told Mrs. Clinton she will be missed, she responded she is not planning to move.
“I am not going anywhere,” she said, adding she wants “I am a New Yorker” on her tombstone.
Supporters said the mood was light, and that applause often broke out during a host of the Democrat’s self-depricating jokes.
Mrs. Clinton retold a story from her daughter Chelsea’s youth where the family had never tried to crack open a coconut, and used several methods from slamming it against the pavement to busting it with a hammer.
Miss Ferrera joked that the story had “significance at so many levels,” and the audience laughed, according to Mr. Bernace, a traffic lawyer in the Bronx.
Mrs. Clinton also relayed one of her favorite jokes that a summer job “sliming” fish in Alaska prepared her to work in Washington.
She briefly mentioned Mr. Obama — who recently allowed the sending of an e-mail from his supporter list to encourage his donors to help her debt relief efforts.
Mrs. Clinton told attendees she had held a private meeting with Mr. Obama and the rest of the national security team earlier in the day in his Chicago transition office.
She said she will work with him to help solve the world’s problems and Mr. Clinton noted that Mr. Obama has done a good job selecting his team.
Mr. Bernace, who supported and fundraised for Mr. Obama during the primary, donated $500 to attend Monday’s Clinton event.
He said he thinks she is a good senator and will make a great secretary of state for Mr. Obama.
“She is just so smart and cool and calculating, she will represent our country well and that is what all Americans want after eight years of mismanagement, not a perfect Camelot but some semblance of competence,” he said.
Over the course of the campaign Mrs. Clinton raised more than $217 million for her presidential bid and loaned herself $13 million.
As of her latest Federal Election Commission filing, she owed $7.6 million, the largest portion of which — $5.3 million — is for her former chief strategist Mark Penn. She owes direct mail firm MSHC Partners $831,000 and former spokesman Howard Wolfson’s Gotham Acme is owed $250,000.
She has paid off all of the small vendors such as hotels in Iowa and bills for campaign events.