On Tuesday, “Veep” showrunner David Mandel will sit down for a panel with two other writers, Etan Cohen (“Idiocracy”) and Eli Attie (“The West Wing”), for a conversation entitled “Screenwriting the White House.”
It sounds like the sort of virtual roundtable that somebody like, well, Variety, would do. But this is actually a fundraiser for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. Tickets can be had for as little as $250, but the truly committed may pledge up to $5,000 (and get the pride of being a virtual “co-host.”)
This is how presidential fundraising works now. In order to draw a crowd, you have to put on a show. Of course, due to coronavirus, all of this glad-handing is being done digitally.
As the Democratic National Convention opens this week — virtually, of course — and there will be a slew of fundraising events in tandem with the big event.
Colleen Bell, a former ambassador to Hungary and a member of Biden’s finance team, is putting on a fundraiser with vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris. She is co-hosting with Nicole Avant, the spouse of Ted Sarandos and herself a former ambassador to the Bahamas, and many big names in Hollywood, including Shonda Rhimes, Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon. Philanthropist Wallis Annenberg is also among the co-hosts.
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Bell told Variety she was also working to arrange for a musical guests.
“We do have some people who have offered to play,” she said. “There’s an extraordinary amount of enthusiasm in support of Sen. Harris as the V.P. candidate.”
Virtual fundraisers can be done more cheaply than in-person events — there’s no caterer to pay, no need for an elaborate ice sculpture. And as with any digital advance, they offer the power of scale, meaning fundraisers have become less intimate and (somewhat) less exclusive.
“You all have front row seats when you’re Zooming,” says Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, CEO of the Gotham Group, and a Democratic fundraiser.
In theory, as many as 10,000 people could be on a Zoom call at once. (That’s the maximum for a Pro account.) Typically the limits are a bit lower than that, Goldsmith-Vein says.
“I can tell you there have been times where there have been so many people waiting to get into these Zooms that you reach capacity,” she says. “You get kicked out or you don’t get let in.”
Plenty of tickets are still available for Monday’s virtual fundraiser with Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which will feature a performance by Carole King. The $250 tickets are “sold out,” but “supporter” level tickets are going for $500.
“As much as people miss the in-person engagement, it’s allowed the campaign to reach an even larger number of people,” Bell tells Variety.
But not all of the velvet ropes have been torn down. The “VIP clutch” — the few minutes of face-time for high-dollar donors prior to the main fundraiser — has been recreated for the Zoom era.
The Carole King event includes a virtual “pre-reception” for high-dollar donors. The $100,000 tickets (signifying “chair” status) are still available, but the $50,000 “co-chair” tickets to the pre-show have all been snapped up.