“Oh my god. Take a gun and shoot me.”
That’s one Hollywood fund-raiser’s take on the difficulties of coming up with more political coin this month.
In recent weeks, the two presidential campaigns, various Senate and House candidates, plus myriad state legislators, ballot propositions and 527 committees have all been making the same play for the same pool of entertainment industry money.
Cindy McCain and Todd Palin raised money for John McCain at the Century Plaza Hotel on Oct. 1. Hillary Clinton was scheduled to attend a $10,000-per-person fund-raiser for Senate candidates at the Santa Monica home of Peter and Megan Chernin on Oct. 3, and to raise money for Barack Obama at the Edison club in downtown L.A. on Oct 4. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) was to raise money at the home of Jamie and Michael Lynton on Oct. 5.
The jockeying is typical for this time in any election cycle. But this one has been different in length — presidential candidates started wooing industry support almost two years ago — and in breadth — by rejecting public financing, the onus has been on Obama to raise, raise, raise. With many givers already maxed out on their allowed contributions, it’s not hard to see signs of donor fatigue.
But the biggest challenge may be the shaky economy.
On his Sept. 16 swing through Los Angeles, Obama reaped about $10 million, a staggering figure aided by an event where some 300 donors paid $28,500 each to have dinner with him at the Greystone Estate in Beverly Hills.
That was just before the real turbulence in the economy, which hit investment portfolios and crunched available credit. Now, even among well-heeled donors, there may some reluctance to open up their checkbooks.
“I can’t say it’s not having an effect,” says an Obama campaign source. “The proof will be in the next few weeks.”
On the books are high-dollar events for Obama, including one featuring Joseph Biden and another with Warren Buffett. For those worrying about their portfolios, Buffett is not a bad guy to have around for a little financial wisdom.
Fund-raisers hope that economic worries will be mitigated by the intense interest in the race; The closer it is, the more urgent it looks.
Some note that this election has opened up an entirely new pool of donors within the entertainment business, not just studio chiefs and star producers and directors. Ben Wexler, a writer-producer whose credits include the sitcom “Still Standing,” is hosting an Obama fund-raiser for young professionals on Oct. 16, an event expected to draw many creative types who have never given before.
“You have a whole new generation of givers in addition to the usual suspects,” says political consultant Noah Mamet.
Further down on the ballot, though, it’s harder to draw attention.
On Sept. 27, more than 50 prominent women from the entertainment industry, who formed a group called Voices for a Senate Majority, raised a hefty $1.3 million for eight Democratic Senate challengers at an event featuring performances by the likes of Larry David and Diane Keaton. Most of the money was raised in June and July, on the assumption it would be more difficult to compete in the fall with the Obama campaign in courting cash. Notes one of the organizers, Lara Bergthold, “Our economy had been limping along, but our fund-raising was done before the big hit came.”
It’s even more difficult for those trying to raise money for ballot propositions. Witness the efforts among those raising money to defeat Prop 8, which would ban same-sex marriage. With contributions lagging, including from high-profile figures in the entertainment business, the campaign has practically had to shame donors into giving more, with Jonathan Lewis, who hails from a Cleveland insurance fortune, issuing a challenge for show business to raise $500,000 that he and his family would match. Supermarket magnate Ron Burkle plans to host a fund-raiser for the No on 8 campaign at his Beverly Hills estate later this month.
Donors should be forgiven if they get confused by all of the activity and by who’s backing what.
Ellen DeGeneres, who has spoken out against Prop 8, recently co-hosted a fund-raiser — not for that campaign but for Prop 2, which restricts the confinement of certain farm animals.