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Political races tap the clout of Hollywood power women

Women's Impact Report 2012 - Politics

In tapping Hollywood for money and support this cycle, President Obama’s campaign has also sought out celebrity, with Eva Longoria, Sarah Jessica Parker and Katy Perry, among other high-profile women, giving speeches, hosting dinners and performing at fund-raising galas.

But less visible have been the major role that women in entertainment have had in this cycle as bundlers for the campaign — charged with raising money, hosting events and lining up new support that is in many ways an even greater challenge in this campaign than in 2008’s contest.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the campaign’s top woman bundler from Hollywood is Colleen Bell, a producer for Bell-Phillip Television Prods., maker of soap operas including “The Bold and the Beautiful.” A prominent philanthropist along with her husband, Bradley, Colleen Bell hosted Obama at a large-scale event at their Holmby Hills home in February. According to reports, she has raised at least $500,000 this cycle, although the New York Times reported a more specific figure of $2 million.

Mitt Romney’s campaign has raised far less cash from Hollywood, although among those who attended a recent Beverly Hills fundraiser were Patricia Heaton, Connie Stevens and Karri Turner.

Broadway producer Margo Lion, who has raised more than $500,000 for Obama, calls her involvement in the campaign “the most fortuitous thing that has happened to me in the last eight years, other than my gorgeous granddaughter (being born) and having my son get married.”

Her involvement began in 2004, when David Rockwell invited her to an event for Obama, then running for U.S. senator from Illinois. “I thought, ‘I know a star when I see it.’ … I started being vitally interested in politics again.”

She said that Obama took an interest in her career, called her on opening nights of her shows and, once his 2008 campaign began, appointed her co-chair of an advisory committee on the arts.

Obama tapped her to organize a “Barack on Broadway” event in 2007, no easy task given that he was then far behind in the polls against New York’s senator, Hillary Clinton. An event this cycle, which drew 1,700 people, featured not just Obama but former President Bill Clinton. There, Obama recalled a conversation he had with Lion, shortly after he was elected, of whether the only way he’d be able to take a stroll around Central Park, given the Secret Service bubble, was if he were in disguise. So she sent him a fake mustache. “And I tried it on and I thought it looked pretty good,” Obama said, to laughs. “I tested this scheme with the Secret Service, they said it didn’t look good enough. But I kept it.”

For many of the bundlers, the challenge is greater this cycle. The campaign is placing even greater emphasis on fundraising, but donor fatigue and the recession have made it more difficult, not to mention that Obama is not running a historic campaign as he did in 2008, but a more traditional reelection race. The convention helped boost enthusiasm, but few believe that it will reach the level that it did in the last cycle.

The Gotham Group’s Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, who with her husband hosted Obama at their Hancock Park home for a 2007 fundraiser, instead has turned her attention to Los Angeles’ mayoral race, in which she is supporting Eric Garcetti, as well as other local and congressional races.

“This time around, we remain ardent supporters, but not at the same level of involvement,” Goldsmith-Vein says via email. “The primary reason is that back in 2007 and 2008, we could make a meaningful difference. This time, he is the president, so his support base is much greater than back then.”

In fact, the demands have perhaps put new emphasis on expanding Obama’s Los Angeles donor base. It started, ironically enough, in the last cycle, as the campaign was in a fierce battle with Hillary Clinton’s team to win support from the entertainment industry.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas Nicole Avant, who along with her husband, Netflix topper Ted Sarandos, have raised more than $500,000, helped expand the base of Los Angeles donors in the last cycle, drawing in prominent African-American executives and professionals, as well as those outside Westside circles.

The idea, she says, is to “proactively focus on people who may be overlooked,” including women and minorities and business leaders from Pasadena and elsewhere.

“That is always what I wanted to bring to the table,” Avant says.

TOP BUNDLERS

$500,000-plus
Mai Lassiter, a homemaker and the wife of producer James Lassiter
Broadway producer Margo Lion
Former Ambassador Nicole Avant and husband, Ted Sarandos, Netflix topper
Crystal Nix-Hines, a writer and attorney

$200,000-$500,000
Jamie Alter Lynton, activst and wife of Sony’s Michael Lynton
Eva Longoria, actress
Catherine Park, producer
Danielle Smith, Warner Music Group

$100,000-$200,000
Kelly Meyer, an environmental activist and wife of Ron Meyer
Wendy Wanderman, producer; she and Mark Gorenberg have worked together to raise the money
Rebecca Carter of talent management firm Coalition Media Group
Giselle Fernandez, TV news anchor

$50,000-$100,000
Patricia Duff, talkshow host
Debra Lee, president and CEO, BET

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