In the crowd of more than 70,000 people at Invesco Field to witness Barack Obama’s historic speech on Thursday were a host of industry names that, like his candidacy nationwide, signals a passing of Hollywood’s political activism to a new generation.
The shift reflects as much who entertainment industry politicos placed their bets on as the changing nature of fund-raising in a presidential campaign.
Throughout the week here, as Obama donors have flocked to the city, they have turned to a group of fund-raisers relatively new to this level of the process, at least compared with the names that led much of the political activity during the Clinton years. His team has been led by Wild Brain CEO Charlie Rivkin and music executive Nicole Avant, as well as Obama’s finance consultants, Jeremy Bernard and Rufus Gifford.
They have been joined by a cadre of Obama backers including Jamie and Michael Lynton, Paula Weinstein, James L. Brooks, J.J. Abrams, Cameron Crowe, Marc and Jane Nathanson, Irena Medavoy and Heather Thomas Brittenham, all with varying histories of political involvement.
Meanwhile, donors who backed Hillary Clinton, like Haim Saban and Ron Burkle, long active in Democratic party politics, have yet to take major roles in Obama’s campaign. Burkle recently met with the candidate during a campaign swing through San Diego and pledged his support and Saban is expected to back Obama’s presidential bid as well.
To be sure, Obama got a big boost with the backing of David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg, both long active in politics, who along with Steven Spielberg held the first major entertainment industry fund-raiser for Obama in February 2007.
Neither Geffen nor Katzenberg were expected to attend Obama’s speech, and Spielberg was leaving Thursday after watching the convention on Wednesday from a skybox at the Pepsi Center.
Throughout the week, Rivkin and Avant have been attending cocktail parties and dinners with other donors, and Bernard and Gifford have been tasked with a host of concerns from credentialing to coordinating with campaign staffers in Chicago.
On Thursday, major fund-raisers attended a gathering that included appearances by Michelle Obama and Joseph Biden.
But there also are a number of donors at the convention for the first time.
Crowe, an early supporter of Obama, said that this was his first time at a political convention.
But it’s not just money that has been driving Obama’s industry support. On Wednesday night, revelers packed into a warehouse on the outskirts of downtown Denver that had been transformed into the Manifest Hope gallery, inspired by Shepard Fairey’s iconic portrait of the candidate. Lining the walls were dozens of artists renderings of Obama, including an abstract work by David Choe, and another in which the candidate is blended with a portrait of Abraham Lincoln.
Entertainment industry publicist Yosi Sergant of Evolutionary Media Group helped organize the exhibition.
Via a grassroots org called Generation Obama, execs like Haroon Saleem from Walden Media and political consultant David O. Washington have been spearheading events such as a recent screening of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” in Beverly Hills, with attendees including Aaron Sorkin, Richard Donner, Laura Ziskin and Los Angeles Councilman Eric Garcetti.
On Wednesday night, after Obama’s surprise appearance on the convention floor, there was a sense of jubilation among some of the Hollywood donors after a week of some uncertainty over a roll call vote and what President Clinton would say. There also was a sense that Joseph Biden would be a great asset in reaching working class voters.
“It is all coming together,” Michael Lynton said in the club corridor of the Pepsi Center, outside a skybox.
The Lyntons were introduced to Obama during his run for the U.S. Senate in 2004, and held a fund-raiser for him then, as well as for his presidential bid.
“I think if there was any doubt in anyone’s mind that this is a team that can bring the Democrats home, tonight showed them they could,” Jamie Lynton said.