Thursday, May 10, 2012

At George Clooney's Dinner, President Obama Mingles With Stars And Raises Millions

"We raised a lot of money because everybody loves George," President says; guests included Jack Black, Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, Robert Downey Jr, Salma Hayek, Barbra Streisand, James Brolin...The menu & details...
Los Angeles, CA: After two events in Seattle, President Obama capped off a fundraising triple-header on Thursday night with the biggest single-event haul of his political career, taking in almost $15 million dollars at a glitzy, much-hyped dinner at George Clooney's house, where he spent much time ribbing the star. Held on the basketball court of the Academy-award winner's secluded canyon home high above Studio City, in a black-walled tent with a clear roof, the President spent close to four hours mingling with 150 entertainment industry powerbrokers and celebrities, and had some face-time with the winners of the Obama, Clooney & You sweepstakes, which drove massive online donations. (Above: The President, Clooney and winner Karen Blutcher, who brought her husband Patrick)

In the lantern-lit and flower-filled tent, all enjoyed a $40,000/plate dinner featuring "Peking Style" Roasted Duckling and a Duo of Lamb and Beef Cheek, created by Wolfgang Puck, a chef who is as much a star as many of the guests.

The President was with Clooney again on Friday morning, for an early basketball game with his good friend. Also playing were presidential aides and actor Tobey Maguire, who sat with Clooney at the dinner, where Mr. Obama spoke of same-sex marriage, his close relationship with Clooney, and co-host Jeffrey Katzenberg, DreamWorks Animation CEO. The President also spoke of his plans for the nation, of course. Guests included Eddie Murphy, Jack Black, Billy Crystal, Robert Downey Jr, Salma Hayek, Barbra Streisand (looking "serious" in a black beret, pool reported) and her husband James Brolin, designers Trina Turk and Diane von Furstenberg, with her internet mogul husband Barry Diller. (Above, the President and Clooney with winner Beth topinka and her husband Jerry)

"Obviously yesterday, we made some news," said President Obama, clad in a dark suit, and standing on a small stage surrounded by flowers, referencing his Wednesday announcement that he personally supports same-sex marriage. He got applause from the receptive crowd,

"But the truth is it was a logical extension of what America is supposed to be," the President said.

"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."

Mr. Obama arrived at Clooney's by motorcade shortly before 7:30, after flying on Marine One from LAX into the Valley and landing at a small private airport. He was escorted to Clooney's by Congressman Howard Berman, and welcomed with streets lined with excited Angelenos carrying signs --"Thank You President Obama for supporting gay marriage!!!" Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, an Obama national campaign co-chair, was also partying in Clooney's backyard.

Clooney, his chin in his hands, sat at a table with his girlfriend Stacy Keibler as the President spoke. He lavished praise on the star, and called him a close friend who "has been talking smack about his basketball game ever since I've known him." Clooney has a special version of artist Shepard Fairey's "Hope" poster hanging in his house.

"We've actually known each other a while," President Obama said. "It was wonderful, walking through the house, and the famous "Hope" poster from the 2008 campaign--people don't realize that the photograph of me is actually me sitting next to George."

It was taken when Clooney was advocating on behalf of Darfur in Washington, the President said, back in the days when he was a Senator.

"This is the first time that George Clooney has ever been photo-shopped out of a picture," the President said, to laughter. "Never happened before, will never happen again."

The President hailed Katzenberg, a major fundraiser for the 2008 campaign, as an "extraordinary friend."

"He was there through all the ups and downs. And occasionally he would call and say, Barack, I don't think things are working the way they're supposed to. But no matter where we were and what phase we were in, in that campaign, he stuck with us."

Katzenberg, who worked with political consultant Andy Spahn to woo donors, announced the evening's record-breaking haul to the glam crowd just before the President stood up to speak, saying it was “a record nearly $15 million.”

“Once again the entertainment industry has stepped forward in a very big way,” Katzenberg said, naming Presidents John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama as beneficiaries of the deep liberal pockets of Hollywood.

More of Hollywood's richest and most influential behind-the-scenes players at the dinner: Director-producer J.J. Abrams (Lost, etc.), producer Susan Downey; producer Nina Jacobson, Creative Artists Agency partner Bryan Lourd; Chris Silbermann, president of talent agency ICM; TV producer Marta Kaufmann; and Jeremy Zimmer, a partner at UTA.

Katzenberg on Wednesday told the Los Angeles Times that he was thrilled that so much money had come from "the 99%" when talking about the buzz the dinner created for online donors with the Obama, Clooney & You sweepstakes. The average donation, he claimed, was $23.

Campaign officials declined to confirm the actual total sum raised, though the $40,000 dinner tickets alone raised $6 million, which means that more than $8 million was raised between April 19th, when the contest was first announced, and April 30th, when it ended. The contest encouraged "the grassroots" to make repeated donations of just $3 or $5 to be potential winners. It was aggressively promoted with e-mail and Twitter by @BarackObama. The e-mails included missives from the President and from First Lady Michelle Obama, who advised supporters that "fun" is "where George Clooney comes in."

"Let's face it, we raised a lot of money because everybody loves George," the President said. "They like me; they love him. And rightfully so."

Clooney himself never e-mailed the supporters on the Obama Campaign's huge list, however. Mr. Obama's previous record for fundraising at a single event was $11 million, at a 2008 dinner in Beverly Hills at the historic Greystone Mansion. Streisand performed.

The sweepstakes winners...
Two lucky ladies won the sweepstakes: Beth Topinka, 55, a military mother and Middle School science teacher from Manalapan, N.J., who brought her jazz-guitarist husband Jerry Topinka. The other winner, Karen Blutcher, 45, is mother of a child with Down syndrome, and an employee at a local public utility company in St. Augustine, Fla. She brought her husband Patrick Blutcher, who is retired Coast Guard. The winners and their husbands stood at the back of the tent as the President spoke. (Above: The President's limo parked outside Clooney's home)

The winners were selected from a pool of 50 donors name drawn by the Campaign, and required to sign confidentiality agreements, just like Chef Puck. They were not made available to the press; the Obama Campaign will shortly be releasing its own videos and interviews with the winners, where they will gush about how they never expected to win, and tout the President's platforms and how these have made a personal impact on their lives (their personal stories work well with the President's campaign goals; read more about them here). That's been the protocol for the winners of the four different Dinner with Barack contests. A fifth dinner contest is currently underway.

Miles to go before he sleeps...
As he wooed those who are already supporting him, the President ticked off his campaign achievements--health care reform, education, Wall Street reform, clean energy, saving the auto industry--"we went after al Qaeda and have decimated the ranks of their leadership"--and saving the economy.

"We're now at a place where we've created 4 million jobs in the last two years, 800,000 in the last six months--or few months alone--almost a million, actually, in the last six months," he said.

The work is "not finished," the President said, because the GOP has "a different vision" for America.

"We're going to have to fight against cynicism and a belief that maybe things can't happen and maybe the game is rigged, what's the point. That's what we're going to be fighting against this time."

"We've got a lot more work," he said. "I will just close by saying that this is going to be harder than it was the last time."

The menu...
Puck's top-secret menu, designed under the constraints of a confidentiality agreement, included an Artichoke Salad followed by Roasted Duckling "Peking Style" with tiny buns, a Duo of Lamb and Beef Cheek, accompanied by Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts, and Sweet Corn Tortelloni. Beers served included Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Bud Light. Waiters were clad head-to-toe in black, from their ties to their aprons, and Puck had about 25 chefs with him. The crews gathered in a parking lot at the base of Fryman Canyon for a briefing before being taken by vans up the mountain to Clooney's house. (Above: Some of the servers, after being briefed, ahead of being whisked to Clooney's house)

White moving-van sized trucks emblazoned with "Wolfgang Puck" ferried food and equipment up to Clooney's house beginning early in the morning.

In the tent on Clooney's basketball court, white paper lanterns of different sizes hung from the roof, and celadon wallboards with mirrors were hung at the front and rear of the pavilion. Centerpieces of blue hydrangeas graced each table. Two slender, tall white urns flanked the short stage with branches of white blossoms.

Security measures were tighter than ever for the President's visit, with helicopters whirring all day above the wild Laurel, Coldwater and Fryman Canyon areas, part of the Santa Monica mountain chain where well-heeled Angelenos ignore the constant risk of wildfires to build homes that overlook the city. Clooney's house in Fryman Canyon is close to a popular hiking trail, and it was closed to the public and filled with well-armed federal agents--and their dogs--tromping among the specimen Oaks, in addition to officers from the LAPD and California Highway patrol. reported that Clooney hired additional private security, too. (Above: Two hours before the President arrived, these LAPD officers picnicked on the trunk of their car in Fryman Canyon)

Post dinner, the President arrived at the Beverly Hilton hotel, home to the Golden Globes and site of Whitney Houston's death, at 11:30 PM, after causing an incredible traffic snarl during a lock down for a security perimeter that included the Valley, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Aides traveling with the President included Senior Advisors Valerie Jarrett, Nancy Ann DeParle, and David Plouffe; Press Secretary Jay Carney; and chief White House photographer Pete Souza.

Earlier on Thursday the President attended two fundraisers in Seattle. The first was a brunch for 70 supporters who gave $17,900 each, with an expected gross of $1.25 million. The second was an 1,800-person event at the Paramount Theater in downtown Seattle, with tickets starting at $1000 and going up. The expected gross was more than $1.8 million. Longtime supporter Dave Matthews performed.

On Friday, the President will be in Reno, Nevada, for an official visit to urge Congress to help mortgage owners. He returns to Washington later in the day. (Above: The dinner invitation)

The transcript of the President's remarks

Click here for links to all Clooney posts.

*Updated with campaign photos

*Clooney dinner photos by ABImages for Obama for America; limo photo by Getty/pool; others by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama