Hollywood Celebs Open Wallets For Obama

Oprah Winfrey, left, acknowledges a rally for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. as his wife Michelle, right, watches at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2007. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) AP

Barack Obama's gala fundraiser Tuesday will attract the mandatory lineup of big-screen talent and boldface names - actors Samuel L. Jackson and Dennis Quaid, model Cindy Crawford and boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard - and confirm again that the entertainment industry remains one of the most reliable and abundant sources of Democratic campaign cash.

The party's 2008 presidential candidates pocketed eight of every $10 coming from movie, TV and music businesses, and Hillary Rodham Clinton's withdrawal from the race all but guarantees a Hollywood windfall for Obama as the party begins to unite around its presumed nominee.

The glitzy gathering will be an early test of Obama's ability to enlist Clinton's financial backers, many of whom are still nursing some pain from the grueling primary contest. Obama will meet with Clinton and some of her top fundraisers on Thursday in Washington and the two will campaign together for the first time on Friday in New Hampshire. Meanwhile, Obama and his campaign have been coaxing Clinton's numerous fundraisers to join his finance operation, which raised more than $287 million as of the end of May.

Among prominent Clinton supporters in Southern California, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa - a Clinton national co-chair - met with Obama in Miami on Saturday and has committed to work for his election. Director Rob Reiner has reached out to the Obama campaign. And Ron Burkle, a close friend of former President Clinton known for holding lavish fundraisers at his Beverly Hills estate, "is happy to do whatever the campaign asks," said spokesman Frank Quintero.

The Los Angeles event comes just days after Obama spurned the public financing system for the general election, opening the way for him to raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars after the Denver convention in a race in which he's already broken fundraising records.

Top tickets are priced at more than $30,000, with the money divided between the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

"There are a few Republicans in this town," says Chad Griffin, a Clinton fundraiser and Hollywood-connected political consultant, who is now supporting Obama. "I do not anticipate anyone in this industry supporting John McCain, regardless of whom they supported in the primary."

McCain has banked money from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and "Saturday Night Live" executive producer Lorne Michaels, but "Hollywood has already voted with its feet," said Clinton-fundraiser-turned-Obama-fundraiser John Emerson, alluding to the steady flow of entertainment money to Democrats in the primary season.

While wealthy celebrities often lavish money on multiple candidates, Obama's donors already include Will Smith, George Clooney, Jennifer Aniston, Leonard Nimoy and singer Harry Connick Jr. Oprah Winfrey's fundraiser for Obama at her Santa Barbara-area estate was one of the biggest events of the primary season, helping cement Obama's position as a credible challenger to Clinton.

An analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, based on fundraising data released May 21, found Obama had collected more than $4 million from movie, TV and music businesses during the campaign. Clinton had received $3.4 million.

McCain's take: $636,000.

That's in keeping with prior years. In 2004, Democrats seeking federal offices banked about 70 percent of the donations from those industries.

Hollywood "is always an uphill climb for Republicans," said McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers. "I think that we're very encouraged by the support that we've been able to get from the folks in the entertainment industry, and John McCain is a great fan of a lot of the work that they do."

It was McCain who had a cameo in the 2005 comedy "The Wedding Crashers."

On a fundraising swing through California this week, McCain will be tapping into sources in the business community. Billionaire investor George Argyros is holding a $25,000-a-head dinner for the Arizona senator at his Newport Beach home.

For Obama, the most important people at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Tuesday might not be the celebrities on the guest list or the Grammy-winning entertainers on stage. A measure of his progress in recruiting Clinton donors will be how many of his vanquished rival's supporters turn out for the Los Angeles event. Emerson was among a group of top Clinton fundraisers who met with Obama staff last week.

It could be a mixed showing.

For Clinton supporters "it's very hard to let go of this dream and take all of this energy and put it toward his campaign. That's easier said than done for many people," said Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, a major Clinton fundraiser now pooling money for the Illinois senator.

Obama "does not have a money problem. The urgency of raising money is less than the urgency of healing the wounds," said Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, who has raised more than $1 million for Clinton since her first Senate race in 2000 in New York.

The best persuader will be Clinton herself. "We lose too much if we lose the White House. Her continuing to say that is of paramount importance," Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis said.

For Obama, the Tuesday money will only be the beginning. Not surprisingly, there's already buzz that David Geffen is organizing a major Hollywood fundraiser for Obama later this year.
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