Candidates count on industry for contributions

Labor Day is supposed to mark the time when the presidential campaigns go from a trot to a sprint.

That’ll be a rude awakening to Hollywood donors, some of whom are already weary of the unprecedented amount of political fund-raising so far this year. Barely a week has gone by without one candidate or another coming through Los Angeles courting contributions. Even the normally dead period of August saw Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain raising money in Southern California.

“It’s really troubling,” says one longtime donor and fund-raiser. “It’s not just the presidential campaigns. It’s this, that and the other thing. And its creating a false sense of (the donors’) importance.”

A significant number of donors have maxed out on a particular candidate, meaning they’ve already given the maximum $2,300 contribution allowed for the contender’s primary campaign. As of June 30, the White House contenders had collectively bagged more than 1,300 maximum primary-season contributions from entertainment sources, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

That’s a sizeable figure in the donor universe, but it doesn’t mean the entertainment biz is tapped out.

Election laws also allow campaigns to raise up to $2,300 more for the general election, creating an entirely new way for donors to “double max” out to $4,600. Nearly 300 donors in entertainment have met that threshold to one candidate or another — almost two-thirds of them “double maxing” out to Clinton, according to an analysis of CRP figures.

Perhaps the most generous is actor Michael Douglas: He’s “double maxed” to Obama, Clinton, Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson.

That’s put pressure on campaigns to come up with new and more enticing ways to reach new pools of donors, with the hopes that as the primary season kicks up in earnest, more of those on the fence will start to pitch in.

“It is harder,” says one major fund-raiser. “But you can’t slow down. You have to keep pace to reach fund-raising goals.”

To no one’s surprise, Obama and Clinton are again making the biggest push in Hollywood circles.

Things kick off in a big way Sept. 8, when Oprah Winfrey holds a fund-raiser for Obama at her Montecito, Calif., home, with attendees seemingly drawn as much to see Winfrey’s sprawling estate as they are to see the candidate. Already being billed as the fund-raiser of the year, with one campaign source saying that more than 1,000 are expected, the sold-out event is expected to include guests from Winfrey’s extensive list of contacts.

Not to be outdone, Clinton holds a fund-raiser the following week at the Los Angeles home of Magic Johnson, in a Sept. 14 event co-hosted by music execs Clarence Avant, Berry Gordy and Quincy Jones.

Obama and Clinton also are each deploying their surrogates. Obama’s wife, Michelle, is guest of honor at a fund-raiser the night before the Oprah event at the Bel-Air home of private equity mogul Barry Porter and his wife, Lea. Bill Clinton steps in for his wife on Sept. 18, when he is top billing at a fund-raiser at the home of CAA’s David O’Connor and his wife, Lona Williams.

And as difficult as it has been for second-tier contenders to draw the big-name donors, they are by no means shut out. Richardson has two events scheduled for Sept. 6 — one at the Bel Air Bay Club and another in Westwood — that are expected to draw a smattering of entertainment types.

“There’s a whole aura to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. They attract big stars and big players,” says agent Mitch Kaplan, one of Richardson’s chief industry fund-raisers. “Bill Richardson is still being discovered.”

That’s a timely reminder. After all, at this point in 2003, Howard Dean was the Hollywood favorite and Joe Lieberman was leading in some national polls.

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