A CNN analysis shows celebs have donated nearly $7 million to Obama so far
Romney hasn't attracted as many A-listers from Hollywood
George Clooney hosting major fundraiser for Obama Thursday night
If you weren’t lucky enough to win a seat at the table for dinner tonight with George Clooney and President Barack Obama, fear not. You may still have a chance to party with the president and a celebrity or two in the near future.
Two lucky Obama supporters will join Clooney, the president and 150 other guests who ponied up an estimated $6 million to dine at the movie star’s Los Angeles home for a dinner Thursday. The raffle earned the campaign another $9 million, according to the campaign.
And, following Obama’s historic announcement in support of same-sex marriage Wednesday, the haul from Hollywood may only increase.
For the president, this celebrity support is becoming routine. A CNN analysis of Federal Elections Commission fundraising data shows dozens of A-listers lending their fame and fortune to both candidates, with Hollywood leaning heavily toward Obama.
Celebrities have always played a role in presidential campaigns, but experts say they have never seen this kind of involvement on this scale. Those who list TV/movies/music as their profession in donation records are one of the largest groups raising money for Obama this election.
According to Opensecrets.org, as of April celebrity bundlers have already contributed some $6,950,000 to Obama’s campaign. That’s before Thursday’s Clooney event, which is being billed as the largest single-event fundraising opportunity for an individual presidential campaign. A campaign insider told CNN it could bring in some $15 million.
While Obama’s donor list does include longtime Democratic contributors like Steven Spielberg, Kris Kristofferson and actor Danny DeVito, the list is also studded with celebrity names that are new to politics. Stars like Jamie Foxx, John Legend, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jane Lynch, and Hilary Duff are on the individual donor list. They’ve already contributed $2,500, the maximum amount an individual can legally give to a candidate directly.
As far as donors to Mitt Romney’s campaign, you’ve got to look long and hard at his FEC records to find a recognizable name like producer Jerry Bruckheimer or the WWE’s Vincent McMahon. Both have given $2,500 to his campaign.
Other celebrities – like rockers Gene Simmons from Kiss and Kid Rock – say they support Romney and have appeared at his rallies, but have yet to turn up on the donor list.
“As we get closer to the convention that could change,” said Kirsten Kukowski, the Republican National Committee press secretary. She adds she doesn’t think Romney needs celebrities like the president does. “We have the message – we don’t need big names to sell it and distract people from what we should really be talking about, which is jobs and how to fix the economy.”
George Clooney is not the first celebrity to hold a glitzy fundraiser this season. In March, filmmaker Tyler Perry became a campaign bundler for Obama’s re-election when he held a couple of large fundraisers at his studio in Atlanta.
About 1,000 people bought tickets for $500 to $2,500 a pop to attend the president’s speech. Forty of those guests, including Oprah Winfrey, paid $35,000 per person to attend an exclusive dinner with the president at Perry’s private estate, with proceeds going to the Obama Victory Fund. The fundraiser made Perry one of the president’s biggest bundlers – those who organize and gather donations from others – in the $500,000+ category.
Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria, who the campaign named as an official national co-chair, became a bundler for Obama in October. She co-hosted a fundraiser for the president at the Los Angeles home of Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith. Asked why she is so active, Longoria said, “I support President Obama because he is on the right side of issues that matter to Latinos and women.”
Having Longoria stumping on the campaign trail reaches a part of the population that might not already be paying attention to the campaign, according to historian Steve Ross. “If you have Eva Longoria doing community events, you may get bigger Hispanic support because they may feel some kind of kinship with her,” said Ross, who wrote the book “Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics.”
“It’s not just about the money with George Clooney or any other big named celebrity fundraiser,” he said. “It’s also about the coverage that fundraiser generates outside the usual mainstream news. This way, you show up on the entertainment programs and create buzz in social media. It’s about trying to reach the 50% who don’t vote. An endorsement from ‘celebrity x’ may make you pay more attention to the campaign, and once you take a closer look you may go out and vote for them.”
Plus, Ross says, Hollywood is a geographically desirable area to raise money. “It’s the easiest place for a candidate to come to a concentrated industry,” Ross said. “To generate support from the financial services industry, Romney needs to travel to New York and to Silicon Valley. To reach the movie industry, it’s all pretty closely based around L.A. It’s one-stop shopping, in a sense.”
Kukowski says involving celebrities in Obama’s campaign the last time did work, but she believes with the bad economy, voters are in a much different place.
“We no longer want a celebrity for president or someone who pals around with Hollywood stars. We want someone who will keep their nose to the grindstone, who will create jobs, rather than spend all this time trying to be BFF’s with George Clooney.”
What ultimately do celebrities like Clooney get by becoming a part of a campaign? When asked why Clooney is such a big supporter, his publicist Stan Rosenfeld in an e-mail said, “We will not be issuing any statements or comments about the event.” Historian Steve Ross speculates it’s about access.
“Someone in the White House will definitely take your call if you are a supporter,” Ross said. Actors like George Clooney, who has campaigned for humane intervention in Sudan, do get meetings with the White House. “It doesn’t buy you the president, but it definitely buys you an opportunity to have your voice heard.”
CNN’s Jessica Yellin contributed to this report