Thursday, May 10, 2012

$15 Million From George Clooney's Dinner For President Obama?

Fundraiser on track to be a record breaker; celeb guests include Barbra Streisand, Robert Downey Jr., Tobey Maguire...
 UPDATE: The post about the dinner is here.
$6 million was instantly raised for President Obama's reelection warchest when this evening's fancy fundraising dinner at George Clooney's Los Angeles-area mansion sold out: 150 donors paid $40,000 each to attend. That's more than has been raised at any of the President's other equivalently glam fundraising dinners, where the haul has typically been between $1 million and $4 million.

But the event could be a record breaker, thanks to online donations for entry into the Obama, Clooney & You sweepstakes, which has reportedly garnered millions from thousands of citizens anxious to win the chance to simultaneously rub shoulders with the President and the movie star. (Above, at the White House)

The names of the two winners--and their two guests--will be announced today.  Update:  Meet the winners.

Hollywood's favorite celeb chef, Wolfgang Puck, is catering the dinner, which included signing a confidentiality agreement for the better-than-the-Oscars menu. Clooney's Craftsman-style home is at the top of a secluded canyon just to the east of Beverly Hills, in what is officially Studio City. At 7:20 PM, the President will of course deliver remarks, and of course they will include more about his new stance on same-sex marriage.

A-listers expected to attend include Barbra Streisand; Robert Downey Jr. and his wife, producer Susan Downey; Tobey Maguire; director-producer J.J. Abrams (Lost, etc.), producer Nina Jacobson, Creative Artists Agency partner Bryan Lourd and Chris Silbermann, president of talent agency ICM.

The anticipated haul...
Last week, Clooney said the event was "the biggest fundraiser so far to date--ever," and that it would raise "double anything that's ever been done before." Last month he told The Wall Street Journal that the event would pull in $10 million. Campaign aides won't cite the exact amount raised from sweepstakes entries, though $15 million is now being bandied about in the press as the accurate figure.

"Be wary about any number you are hearing," an Obama aide told The Hollywood Reporter, noting that the real figure is a closely guarded secret, just as CNN simultaneously claimed that a top Dem source assured them the haul would be $15 mil. CNN didn't name the source, and apparently didn't realize that the Obama camp would loooooove the Romney camp to believe that Mr. Obama can grab $15 mil in a single evening.

Campaign aides have never released an exact figure for the money raised from the four previous Dinner with Barack fundraisers, in which the President was raffled off as a dinner date for lucky winners. A fifth dinner contest is currently underway.

Whatever the real sum, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, who organized the Clooney dinner with political consultant Andy Spahn, is giddy about the dollar figure.

"It's a stunning turnout of support, and what's really interesting to me is that almost two-thirds of the money is coming from grass-roots support, from the 99%," Katzenberg gushed to the Los Angeles Times.

That's quite an Occupy-flavored comment from a multimillionaire supporting a President who wants to up the tax rate for millionaires.

The previous one-night fundraising record for Mr. Obama was $11 million for a 2008 dinner fundraiser held at the historic Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, which included a concert by Streisand.

How the campaign wooed donors online...
The Obama campaign spent a lot of time e-mailing and using Twitter to entice small-dollar donors ("grassroots supporters like you") to try to win admission to the dinner by giving $3 and $5 at a time.

The push included multiple e-mails from the President ("George Clooney and me") and one from First Lady Michelle Obama, who advised donors that "fun" is "where George Clooney comes in." As if meeting the President and Clooney wasn't enough, aides reminded donors that "We'll take care of airfare" and "Your hotel and airfare--covered." One aide even suggested that winners could use the prize as a bribery tool.

On @BarackObama's Twitter account, the dinner was billed as a bucket-list item. “Meeting President Obama at a party hosted by George Clooney—check two things off your life list," was a Tweet on April 23rd. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing," was a Tweet on April 26. @BarackObama also used Hollywood lingo to woo donors: "Fly to California with a +1 to meet the President at George Clooney’s house," came on April 25th.

Obama aides chose the names of fifty potential winners after the contest closed on April 30th, and then narrowed these down to the two lucky winners and their guests, who had to undergo background checks and security clearance. They also had to agree to be used in campaign materials to the end of eternity. The prize package is taxable to the winners at the assigned retail value of $1,600.

The President will dine with Clooney, Hollywood and the grassroots winners during a western swing that begins on Thursday and includes two fundraising events in Seattle before he arrives in Los Angeles at 6:25 PM. On Friday the President will be in Reno, Nevada, for an official appearance in which he will urge Congress to support his plan for helping homeowners refinance their mortgages.

*Click here for links to all Clooney posts.

*Photo by Pete Souza/White House, taken outside the Oval Office on Oct. 12, 2010.