Hollywood donors race to raise money

With the presidential race in a dead heat, Hollywood donors feverishly made last-minute calls to raise money for what could be Barack Obama’s final entertainment industry fund-raiser before the general election.

Organizers said Obama’s two events on Tuesday sold out by Monday afternoon, including a dinner at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills and a reception and concert at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where Barbra Streisand and Ben Harper are scheduled to perform. In fact, one estimate from the Politico website said the campaign could raise as much as $9 million, perhaps shattering single-day fund-raising records.

Obama’s visit comes as some Hollywood donors express anxiety at the state of the race, with polls tightening following the Republican National Convention and the addition of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate.

That may have instilled a greater sense of urgency and improved fund-raising for the two events. The Greystone dinner for about 280 people costs $28,500 per person, and tickets for the Beverly Wilshire reception go for $2,500.The latter was expected to draw about 900 people.

“Yes, it has motivated more people, and people are passionate about the idea of Obama being president,” said Jim Wiatt, CEO of William Morris, who with his wife Elizabeth has been raising money for the candidate.

Wiatt said that some anxiety can be attributed to politically obsessed donors’ tendency to watch daily polling, and that “the polls are fluctuating so much.”

“The one thing that will be for sure is that this will be a close election,” Wiatt said.

A cross-section of industry figures have tapped into their contacts to get donors to contribute to the event — no easy task even among high-income industry players in that it can cost a couple $57,000 to have dinner with the candidate.

The events are being organized via Obama’s Southern California finance team, led by Wild Brain CEO Charles Rivkin and music exec Nicole Avant. Fund-raisers and organizers range from Wiatt to Summit Entertainment CEO Rob Friedman to the DreamWorks trio of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.

“Everybody is pretty energized and certainly everybody notices that the race has tightened,” said political consultant Donna Bojarsky, who has clients in the entertainment business. “There is no sure thing in politics, and people want to do everything they can.”

There is a recognition that “nobody can afford to be complacent, and everyone needs to do their part,” she said.

She added that activity goes beyond writing checks, to participating in phone banks in swing states such as Florida and Nevada.

What is also true is there is no shortage of advice — which is natural in a business made up of creative minds and marketing wizards. The creative community in particular has been consumed by the race, privately offering their own take on how Obama should better frame his message against the resurgent McCain campaign.

“I think people are a little edgy because there is an ebb and flow to campaigns, and because it seems like (McCain and Palin) are taking their fight to us,” said literary agent Mitch Kaplan, who has been raising money for Obama. “Their volume is up higher.”

But Kaplan said he was particularly pleased with a new Obama ad introduced Monday that hit McCain’s campaign tactics, and Kaplan suggested that the troubles on Wall Street would reorient the campaign toward the economy.

He attributed pre-election jitters to the tendency to watch 24-hour cable news shows.

“It is easier to be nervous than not, I think, and then it becomes contagious.”

He added, “I remain positive… I think we are doing fine.”

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