Would you rather dine with Sarah Jessica Parker or Donald Trump?
“We have Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Batman in the room. We should let the Secret Service take the night off,” quipped President Obama at a star-studded fundraising dinner last month. The event, which took place at George Clooney’s Los Angeles home on May 10, featured superhero actors Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man) and Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man) along with fellow A-listers Barbara Streisand and Salma Hayek, among others. While it raised an astounding $15 million -- the most ever for a presidential fundraiser -- it also welcomed two raffle-winning donors, Karen Blutcher and Beth Topinka, signaling a return to a more old-fashioned, small-scale approach to fundraising.
Dubbed “Starmegeddon,” Clooney's successful fundraiser is a harbinger of the increasingly popular celebrity-cum-president raffle dinners to come. Previous lottery dinners with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, or with the president and first lady Michelle Obama, have pulled in a few million dollars in donations. However, the Clooney-hosted dinner made roughly $9 million from the online lottery alone (the other $6 million came from the 150 affluent Democrat supporters who paid $40,000 to attend).
On June 14, Sarah Jessica Parker will host a dinner in her Manhattan home with the president and first lady, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, and selected raffle winners who donate $3 or more to the Obama reelection campaign (although due to state gambling laws you can technically enter for free).
Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is advertising a “Dine with the Donald” event, where Romney campaign donors will have the chance to win a stay at the Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York, a tour of the “Celebrity Apprentice” boardroom, and dinner with Trump and Romney.
President Obama appeared at an LGBT Leadership Council gala Wednesday, while Mitt Romney accused him of being out of touch for his fundraising with celebrities.
On Romney’s fundraising website, an “I want YOU” poster with Trump pointing a finger at the viewer reads “Dine with the Donald ... & Mitt,” an indication that the Romney campaign is using Trump’s celebrity, and not the candidate's, to entice donors. Likewise, the Obama campaign listed Clooney and Parker first, advertising the May fundraiser in an email as a dinner with “Clooney and me.”
These fundraisers are meant to stimulate “grassroots” support, as written in a recent White House newsletter, and can greatly improve financial donations while encouraging campaign participation.
“These cost very little money to do ... because it’s all online,” Democratic consultant Tad Devine told The Daily Beast. The only expenses are for the production of the video to advertise the dinners and the cost to fly out and house the contest winners.
But will A-listers continue to open their homes for fundraising purposes, and will raffle entries remain high?
Between Super PAC money and the large corporate donations that both candidates receive, raffle dinners appear to be the most transparent and inclusive means of garnering support. Raising $15 million in one evening isn't bad either.
Even though the odds are next to nothing that an entrant will win these raffles, it’s hard to say no to the chance to dine with the president. Or with The Donald, and Mitt Romney, for that matter.
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