You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How Pete Buttigieg Became a Fundraising Star in Hollywood

Pete Buttigieg is not quite a top-tier candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. But in Hollywood, the 37-year-old gay mayor of South Bend, Ind., has already become the campaign’s breakout star.

Buttigieg raised $24.8 million in the second quarter, leading the Democratic field. Among his contributors were David Geffen, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston and Barbra Streisand.

He will return to Los Angeles on July 25 for a series of fundraisers, including a lunch hosted by former Ambassador Nicole Avant, wife of Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos. In the evening, he’ll be at the home of NBCUniversal international chairman Kevin MacLellan, along with co-hosts Ellen DeGeneres, Sean Hayes and Chelsea Handler.

The Buttigieg campaign has made Hollywood a priority, working closely with consultant John Gile and publicist Simon Halls to make inroads. As the first credible gay candidate for president, he has been able to tap into a network of gay donors, many of whom see his candidacy as a major milestone on the march to LGBTQ equality.

According to a Los Angeles Times analysis, Buttigieg raised $402,000 from the entertainment community in the second quarter, ahead of both California Sen. Kamala Harris, at $280,000, and former Vice President Joe Biden, who entered the race in late April and has raised $170,000 in Hollywood. 

Popular on Variety

Supporters say the affinity goes deeper than Buttigieg’s identity.

“He has hit a nerve,” says Rick Jacobs, a veteran Los Angeles political adviser. “You don’t raise that kind of money if something isn’t resonating.”

His supporters sometimes compare him to Barack Obama, seeing a reasonable, polished communicator who speaks of uniting a divided country. Buttigieg also comes to the campaign with a relatively light résumé, which many see as a virtue.

“What Buttigieg does is thoughtful — it feels fresh and authentic,” says Lena Kennedy, a fundraiser who bundled contributions for Obama and Hillary Clinton. “It feels that he has the capacity to pull our country to a place of healing.”

Hope Warschaw, another Clinton and Obama bundler, attended a Buttigieg fundraiser in May at the home of Brian Goldsmith.

“We all think he deserved money to keep his campaign going,” she says. “He’s one of the smartest people in the race, and the freshest face.”

Rival campaigns have not really taken aim at Buttigieg. In private, they compliment his talents and suggest he will become an important leader — in a few more years.

Many of his supporters are hedging their bets, giving to Biden, Harris, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other campaigns as well.

“People are taking a wait-and-see attitude,” says casting director Tammy Billik, who is co-hosting a Buttigieg fundraiser at the home of Ease Entertainment Services partners Mike Rose and Ruben Rodriguez, also on July 25. “Whether it’s Biden or Kamala or Warren or Pete, everybody wants to see who rises up there. Everybody is going to get behind that person.”

For now, though, Billik is urging her friends to give to Buttigieg. She notes his military experience in Afghanistan, and says he does not seem “too far left” to be elected. “He appeals to people both straight and gay and feels like somebody we could see in the White House, whether it’s 2020 or 2028,” she says.

The LGBTQ community is used to giving money to straight candidates who support their causes. Seeing a viable gay candidate is a watershed.

“It’s an affirmation of a lot of work that a lot of people did,” says Howard Bragman, founder of LaBrea Media. “He’s got a huge career. He’s going to make a lot of money speaking, doing public appearances, books.  … I think Pete has won already.

More Politics

  • From left House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,

    House Leadership Unveils Impeachment Articles Against President Trump

    House Democrats unveiled two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Tuesday morning, accusing him of abusing his power and obstructing Congress in its impeachment inquiry. Two committee chairmen — Jerrold Nadler and Adam Schiff — laid out a case that Trump interfered in the 2020 election by pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation [...]

  • Pete Buttigieg

    Pete Buttigieg to Open Fundraisers to the Press

    Pete Buttigieg will open his fundraisers to the press and will release names of his bundlers within a week, the campaign announced on Monday. Buttigieg made the commitments three after Sen. Elizabeth Warren challenged him to be more transparent about his fundraising. “From the start, Pete has said it is important for every candidate to [...]

  • 2019 Kennedy Center Honoree singer Linda

    Linda Ronstadt to Mike Pompeo: Stop 'Enabling' Donald Trump

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — Linda Ronstadt, one of this year’s Kennedy Center Honorees, had sharp words for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday night during a State Department reception for the Kennedy Center kudos. Ronstadt and Pompeo faced off in the U.S. State Department’s ornate diplomatic greeting rooms at the traditional event that precedes Sunday’s [...]

  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi,

    Nancy Pelosi Announces House Will Proceed With Impeachment

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday morning that the House will proceed with articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. Pelosi said the impeachment inquiry has shown that Trump abused his power by withholding military aid and a White House meeting from Ukraine in an attempt to pressure the country’s president to announce an investigation into [...]

  • Kamala Harris

    Kamala Harris Drops Out of Presidential Race

    Kamala Harris announced on Tuesday that she is dropping out of the presidential race, citing her campaign’s struggles to raise money in the closing months before the Iowa caucus. Harris informed her staff on a conference call that she was suspending her campaign. “My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need [...]

  • Prince Andrew161st Great Yorkshire Show, Great

    Woman Trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein Accuses Britain's Prince Andrew of Lying

    The woman who alleges that she was forced by Jeffrey Epstein to have sex with Prince Andrew said she had three encounters with the British royal at the late financier’s instigation and accused the prince of lying about it. Virginia Giuffre told the BBC that Epstein brought her to London in March 2001 when she [...]

  • Armed police at incident at London

    Two Dead in Terrorist Attack on London Bridge

    UPDATED: Several people were injured, some seriously, in a knife attack in London and their suspected assailant was killed by police in an incident Friday that Scotland Yard said was a terrorist assault. London police later said that two people were killed, according to the Associated Press. London Bridge was cordoned off and the area [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content