Senator talks up Hollywood for future funds

Continuing the week’s fusion of national politics and entertainment, Hillary Clinton waded into the Hollywood trough on Thursday, meeting industry donors at a series of small receptions that are a prelude to a gala fund-raiser next month.

Her appearance at events hosted by longtime supporters such as Ron Burkle, Haim Saban, John Emerson and Sim Farar came a day after her campaign and that of Barack Obama sparred repeatedly over sharp comments made by David Geffen about Clinton, engulfing the news cycle for much of Wednesday.

Clinton’s meetings, which also included a gathering at Creative Artists Agency, were meant to be low-key, designed to attract those who commit to raising anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 for a gala fund-raiser at the home of Ron Burkle on March 24.

Among those who attended at least one of the various events were music executive Clarence Avant, Mary Steenburgen, producer Bruce Cohen, producer Steve Bing, Paradigm’s Sam Gores, Charter Communications’ Marc Nathanson, Frank Biondi, attorney Sam Fischer and Comcast’s Ted Harbert. Also present were City National Bank CEO Russell Goldsmith and former Gov. Gray Davis.

The CAA event included not just agents but former Clinton staffers, financiers, lawyers and managers. Among those there were producer Jamie Patricof and CAA’s Michael Kives.

The event lasted for about an hour and a half, and Clinton spoke on a wide range of issues including Iraq, immigration and health care. One participant said, “She was incredibly well received.” She later met with CAA partners.

Media scrutiny of Hollywood fund-raising has become even more intense as Clinton and Obama scramble to attract some of the entertainment industry’s highest-profile donors, even as many insist that they are as yet uncommitted. This week, there have been so many different events — not just for Clinton and for Obama but for Joseph Biden — that one donor quipped that he had to shuffle through checks to make sure he kept them straight.

The race for dollars has made for drama in the political media, with Time characterizing their campaigns as playing like the plot of “All About Eve,” as Clinton’s presumptive dominant support in Hollywood is challenged by a charismatic upstart.

Obama’s fund-raiser, which raised some $1.3 million, attracted Jennifer Aniston, Ron Howard and Ben Stiller and played like a who’s who of Hollywood studio heads, with Fox’s Jim Gianopulos, Universal’s Ron Meyer and Paramount’s Brad Grey among those who paid $2,300 a ticket. Guests who helped raise $46,000 later went to a private dinner at Geffen’s home.

“I have had so many conversations with Clinton supporters who tell me how hard they are working for her, but they say how much they love Obama,” said Arianna Huffington, the founder and editor-in-chief of HuffingtonPost.com.

Or, as one studio exec said, “She feels like the politician, while he feels like a rock star.”

Others say that Clinton’s camp has been caught off guard by Obama’s ability to raise money in Hollywood.

One Obama supporter said that Clinton’s campaign staff would have “laughed you out of the room if they told you that Obama could raise $1.3 million.”

Yet Clinton backers characterize that as campaign spin.

“Both campaigns are going to raise so much money it is like splitting hairs,” said one Clinton donor.

Some predict that Clinton will top the $1.3 million figure at her event and point out that her organization, preparation and command of the issues will make her tough to beat as the primaries approach. Among those backing her bid are such star names as Elizabeth Taylor as well as Bing, one of the country’s most prolific donors.

“Those who have opted to support other candidates I believe will very quickly come home,” Saban told NBC’s “Today” earlier this month.

It’s safe to say that Geffen probably won’t be one of them. He was one of President Clinton’s major contributors, but, after a long-ago falling out with the Clintons, he is backing the Obama camp. He co-hosted the Tuesday fund-raiser

It’s unknown whether Geffen had any idea of the storm that his comments about the Clintons would make. Among other things, he told the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, “Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it’s troubling.”

A longtime supporter of the Clintons said, “All of this is just early skirmishing. In the end, Hollywood will probably be supportive of the Democratic nominee, regardless of who it is. It’s so early, and there are all these candidates. Inevitably, there will be these crises du jour.”

Offering a reality check was producer Norman Lear, a veteran observer of the political scene and donor to candidates, who says that the campaign coverage has consumed other, more important stories. He pointed to a federal appeals court ruling that detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, do not have a right to have their cases heard in court.

“This happened on Tuesday, and the world is asking what people like me think of Hillary, or Mrs. Clinton bashing, or Obama, and the senator bashing,” he said. “All of that stuff. This is what we are all talking about while an appeals court endorses the right of the federal government to keep people in prison who have no ability to defend themselves.”

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