Obama Tests New Gay Marriage Stance With Donors, Clooney

Obama Tests New Gay Marriage Stance With Donors, Clooney
George Clooney and President Barack Obama outside the Oval Office. Photograph by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images

President Barack Obama is testing his newest appeal to wealthy backers -- his public support for gay marriage -- at three West Coast fundraisers, including dinner at the Los Angeles home of movie star George Clooney.

Tonight’s event featuring Clooney and Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive officer of Glendale, California-based Dreamworks Animation Skg Inc., was being promoted by Obama backers as the top fundraising vehicle of the year, bringing in at least $6 million.

The president’s endorsement of same-sex marriage yesterday will help generate more money, said Eugene Sepulveda, a former fundraiser for Obama’s campaign.

“We’ve just turbo-charged that enthusiasm for him because of that statement yesterday,” he said.

The campaign is seeking to parlay the event at Clooney’s house, with 150 guests paying $40,000 a ticket to attend, into millions more for the re-election effort. Donors are being urged to contribute to a pro-Obama super-political action committee, on which there are no limits for donations, to compete against super-PACs supporting Republican Mitt Romney.

Dinner Raffle

Obama’s campaign team also is using Clooney’s star power to generate money from small donors by raffling off chances to attend the dinner for $3 apiece.

Clooney told the Wall Street Journal last month that could raise the take to $10 million. Clooney, through his agent, declined requests for an interview. Campaign officials declined yesterday to put a dollar figure on the total draw from Clooney’s involvement.

“They’re very clever about how they use these things,” said Bill Carrick, a California-based Democratic political consultant. Clooney is “as hot a movie star as exists in the 2012 universe. They turned it into quite an ingenious grassroots fundraising vehicle.”

The two winners of the raffle, a science teacher from Manalapan, New Jersey, and a utility company communications coordinator from St. Augustine, Florida, and their husbands will be attending the Clooney dinner along with other Hollywood celebrities such as Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black and Barbra Streisand.

Donor Appeal

The Obama campaign also e-mailed an appeal to donors last night following an interview with ABC News in which he announced his support of gay marriage, ending years of vacillation and reversing his earlier opposition.

“I decided it was time to affirm my personal belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry,” said the note, addressed from Obama, which asks for donations.

Obama made no mention of his switch on same-sex marriage in the public portion of remarks at the first stop of his day, a brunch for 70 guests, with tickets at $17,900. It was held at the Seattle-area home of real estate developer Bruce Blume, founder and chairman of the Blume Co.

Obama talked about his record, including passage of the health-care law, setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles and initiatives to expand student loans.

“This country succeeds together, not apart,” Obama said, telling donors that Republicans have “a very narrow vision” of the country.

Seattle Fundraiser

Before leaving for Los Angeles, Obama will attend a second, larger fundraiser in Seattle that will draw 1,800 guests with tickets starting at $1,000 and feature musician Dave Matthews.

Money raised will be divided among Obama’s campaign, the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic Party organizations.

Obama has received $2.1 million from people working in the entertainment industry, almost three-fourths of all the campaign contributions from that segment, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group. Romney has taken in $363,570. The industry is Obama’s ninth-biggest source of campaign cash, according to the center.

In 2008, Obama received $9.2 million, compared with $3.5 million for Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and $1.2 million for Republican nominee John McCain.

Obama raised $196.6 million for his re-election and had $104.1 million in the bank as of March 31, compared with $10.1 million for Romney, who had brought in $88.7 million for his campaign. Romney has been helped by independent committees Restore Our Future and American Crossroads, which between them raised $80 million, compared with $9 million for the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action.

Obama Fundraisers

Obama’s top fundraisers include Katzenberg and Mai Lassiter, wife of film producer James Lassiter, who runs a Hollywood production company with actor Will Smith and others.

Both Katzenberg and Lassiter have raised more than $500,000 for Obama’s re-election campaign. Katzenberg contributed $2 million to the pro-Obama super-PAC, Priorities USA Action, and comedian Bill Maher donated $1 million.

Obama also plans at least two fundraisers with gay rights activists, the first on May 14 in New York featuring pop singer Ricky Martin. The second is scheduled for June 6 in Los Angeles.

“Every event, including tonight, will be oversold for the LGBT community and he is going to be feeling an extraordinary amount of love,” said Sepulveda, who resigned his position as an Obama fundraiser after becoming president of two National Public Radio affiliates in Texas.

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