The man who was paid $175,000 to plan Chelsea Clinton’s wedding and who has boosted his event company through the Clinton’s Washington, D.C., network will be hosting Hillary Clinton for a fundraiser in Massachusetts on Thursday.
Bryan Rafanelli, who is the founder, president, and chief creative officer of Rafanelli Events, bases his business in Boston.
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He met Hillary Clinton in 2000 when he planned a Boston fundraiser for her Senate campaign, and he planned the wedding between her longtime aide Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner. Rafanelli met Clinton through Gerry and Elaine Schuster, who themselves have raised millions for the Clintons.
The Rafanelli-Clinton relationship became so strong through the detailed planning of the Clinton-Mezvinsky "wedding of the decade" that Rafanelli Events moved part of its operation to Washington, D.C.
"When Hillary went to the State Department, D.C. became a good secondary market," Rafanelli said in 2010.
Rafanelli Events began paying Hillary Clinton for President, the still idling campaign committee for Clinton’s 2008 campaign, $1,200 a month in rent for use of its D.C. office space, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Once it arrived in D.C., Rafanelli’s Boston company became a go-to event company for state dinners hosted by the Obama White House and events held by Clinton’s State Department.
"[Rafanelli Events] worked on several events with Hillary and actually we’re working with her down in D.C. right now on some events for her with the State Department," a company spokesperson told Politico in 2010. "We got the connection to the State Department through her."
Rafanelli’s partner Mark Walsh, who was Clinton’s national director of gay, lesbian and transgender outreach in 2008, benefitted from the improved relationship as well. In early 2011, Walsh was given the State Department’s deputy chief of protocol position and the $179,700 salary that went with it.
Walsh’s appointment opened the door for a clear conflict of interest situation.
The office of the chief of protocol is tasked with managing—and paying—for all events involving foreign dignitaries, which were exactly the events that Rafanelli Events was winning contracts for. The price tag for state dinners during the Obama administration has skyrocketed.
In addition to being Rafanelli’s personal partner, Walsh was also a business partner who co-founded the company with Rafanelli. Although he resigned as the company’s treasurer, he maintained a stake worth as much as $1 million in Rafanelli Events.
The Office of the Chief of Protocol in Clinton’s State Department was home to many of Clinton’s closest political confidantes.
Walsh took over as deputy chief of protocol for Dennis Cheng, who is now the national finance director for Clinton’s presidential campaign. He worked under Capricia Marshall, who has worked alongside Clinton ever since she was First Lady and is one of her closest friends. Before moving to the campaign, Cheng was the Clinton Foundation’s chief development officer.
Both Rafanelli and Walsh have been active political donors to Clinton since 1999, when they both gave $1000 to her Senate campaign. Rafanelli was also named a "Hillraiser" for her 2008 presidential campaign.
The Clinton campaign did not return a request for comment on whether Clinton’s political and personal relationships with Rafanelli helped his company win business while she was part of the administration.