President Obama trekked to George Clooney’s home on Thursday evening for a record-setting presidential fundraiser, a strong show of Hollywood support for his reelection bid that took on new luster after his embrace of same-sex marriage.
“Yesterday, we made some news,” Obama said to an applauding crowd, including Jeffrey Katzenberg, Barry Diller, Barbra Streisand, Robert Downey Jr. and Billy Crystal.
“But the truth is it was a logical extension of what America is supposed to be,” Obama added. “It grew directly out of this difference in visions. Are we a country that includes everybody and gives everybody a shot and treats everybody fairly, and is that going to make us stronger? Are we welcoming to immigrants? Are we welcoming to people who aren’t like us? Does that make us stronger? I believe it does. So that’s what’s at stake.”
The event raised just shy of $15 million, Katzenberg said. Sources said about $6 million came from the dinner and up to another $9 million from an online contest in which two supporters could win tickets to the dinner, catered by Wolfgang Puck.
Clooney briefly addressed the crowd before turning over the introduction to Katzenberg, Obama’s most prolific showbiz donor and fundraiser, who also talked of the President’s same-sex marriage announcement.
“Yesterday, he did the right thing yet again,” Katzenberg said, adding that with the huge haul from the event “once again the entertainment industry has stepped forward in a big way.”
Obama thanked Katzenberg “for his tenacious support and advocacy since we started by in 2007.”
“He has consistently been there for me, through thick and thin,” the President said.
Although the event was much smaller — just 150 people in Clooney’s Studio City home, nestled in the hills off of Laurel Canyon Drive — it certainly rivaled in publicity Oprah Winfrey’s fundraiser for candidate Obama at her Montecito estate in 2007.
Part of that was the campaign’s own making, as it heavily promoted the contest, billed as “Obama, Clooney & You.”
Earlier in the day, the campaign announced the winners, Beth Topinka, a science teacher from New Jersey; and Karen Blutcher, a communications coordinator for a Florida utility company. Both brought their husbands to the event.
According to the pool reporter who was there, the fete also was surprisingly modest, by big donor standards: a Tudor-style home, and held in a tent on Clooney’s basketball court.
Even if the pool reporter wasn’t impressed, she did spot a sign on a tree in the winding driveway: “pot-bellied pig crossing,” for his late pet Max.
Obama said that walking through Clooney’s house, he spotted Shepard Fairey’s iconic “HOPE” poster. “People don’t realize that the photograph of me is actually me sitting next to George,” at an event when Clooney was advocating for Darfur.
“We struck up a friendship,” Obama said, then quipping, “This is the first time that George Clooney has actually been photoshopped out of a picture. Never happened before, will never happen again.”
He added, “We raised a lot of money because everybody loves George. They like me, they love him. And rightfully so. Not only is he an unbelievable actor, but he is one of those rare individuals who is at ease with everybody. He seems to occupy a state of grace, and uses his extraordinary talents on behalf of something truly important.”
Among those also present at the event were Rob Reiner, Tobey Maguire, Barry Meyer, Bryan Lourd, Chris Silbermann, Marta Kauffman, Herb Alpert, Byron Allen, Yarl Moan, Blake Byrne, Diane Von Furstenburg, James Brolin and the campaign’s two Southern California finance co-chairs, John Emerson and Ken Solomon.
Obama’s announcement on Wednesday that he supports same-sex marriage is expected to energize his supporters, and perhaps draw new donors, in a community where the issue has been a signature issue and viewed as the next step in the civil rights movement. Norman Lear, who had said that he did not plan on giving to the campaign this cycle, said that he and his wife were so impressed by Obama’s “leadership” that they changed course and sent to maximum amount.
Also present at the Clooney event was Skip Paul, senior adviser at Centerview Partners, who called Obama’s announcement a “defining point of his campaign.”
“Everybody we talked to made the point that this was a personal statement of the President’s, that this is who this man is, that this is what he believes, Paul said. He was there with his husband, Van Fletcher, and said, “I will be a lot more active. But more importantly, ten million more people will be active. It will energize a lot of young people.”
“It really has woken people up, both to the specific issue and in a lot of ways to the campaign,” said Solomon, the CEO of the Tennis Channel, who added that the political “optics” of the President’s decision “are so not a part of his thinking.”
Organizers of Obama’s next visit to Los Angeles on June 6 say there has been a jump in donations since the President’s announcement about same-sex marriage. In addition to a concert fundraiser aimed at gay and lesbian donors, where tickets will start at $1,250, Obama is scheduled to also attend a smaller dinner, also at $40,000 per person, to be hosted by “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy.