George Clooney raises $15m for Barack Obama - with a little help from his Hollywood friends
HOLLYWOOD stars turned out in force at a record breaking $15m fundraising extravaganza for President Barack Obama which was held at George Clooney's mansion.
Barbra Streisand, wearing a black beret, and actors Robert Downey Jr, Tobey Maguire, Jack Black and Salma Hayek were among the 150 guests at the event.
Hollywood's great and good, who each paid $40,000 to attend, arrived in fleets of Bentleys and Porshces. They sat at 14 round tables laid out under white paper lanterns in a tent with a transparent roof. The tent was erected on a basketball court at Clooney's Mock Tudor home in a leafy hillside enclave in Los Angeles.
Mr Obama was applauded as he spoke about his decision to endorse gay marriage earlier this week. He said: "Obviously yesterday we made some news. But the truth is it was a logical extension of what America is supposed to be. Are we a country that includes everybody? "Does that make us stronger? I believe it does."
The president added: "I want to thank Clooney for letting us use his basketball court. This man has been talking smack about his basketball game ever since I've known him. We raised a lot of money because everybody loves George. They like me, they love him. And rightfully so.
"He seems to occupy a constant state of grace, and uses his extraordinary talents on behalf of something truly important."" Mr Obama told the crowd that his famous "Hope" poster from the 2008 campaign was taken from a photograph of him sitting next to Clooney, but the actor was removed from the image.
He said: "This is the first time that George Clooney has ever been photo-shopped out of a picture. Never happened before, never happen again." Fort Knox-style security surrounded Clooney's house, including officers from the Counter Terrorism Unit, the Secret Service, plain clothes police in nearby suburban streets, helicopters and bomb sniffing dogs.
Dinner was prepared by Wolfgang Puck and sources close to the celebrity chef said the food was "better than the Oscars," which he also does the catering for. Mr Puck's minions were seen carrying in racks of meat, watermelons, Evian water, and crates of Sierra Nevada pale ale. The menu included roasted duckling "Peking style" and lamb and beef cheek.
As Mr Obama's convoy arrived, dovetailed by 30 police motorcycles, several of Clooney's neighbours in the Studio City area found their evening dog walk interrupted.
Shelly Cohen, 63, was walking "Clooney," her King Charles Spaniel which is named after the actor. She told The Daily Telegraph: "Oh, the disruption is no problem really. George Clooney is very popular around here. I walk past his basketball court all the time. And you never think you're going to have the president on your doorstep. It's absolutely thrilling."
Jackie Praw, 39, another local resident out walking her Pomeranian dog Gizmo, said Mr Obama's announcement in favour of gay marriage, had instantly made him more popular in Hollywood. She said: "This is a very Democratic area and people here are delighted by his stance."
Other Angelenos were more concerned with the effect of the presidential motorcade on traffic flow. Some referred to the event as "Starmegeddon" and the "Obamajam." Alan Dymond, president of the Studio City Residents Association, said the lack of information about road closures was "sort of an irritant."
The dinner raised $6m from ticket sales but broke previous presidential fundraising records because it included an online sweepstake offering two pairs of seats for "dinner with Barack and George" to members of the public. A minimum donation $3 was required to enter the raffle and tens of thousands of Americans donated an average of $23 each.
The tickets were won by Beth Topinka, a science teacher from New Jersey, and Karen Blutcher, the mother of a five-year-old son with Down syndrome, from St. Augustine, Florida. Mrs Topinka brought her husband Jerry, a jazz guitarist, and Mrs Blutcher took her husband Patrick, a retired military avionics expert.
The Clooney-hosted event was originally supposed to take place at the new $35m home of Jeffrey Katzenberg, head of the DreamWorks Animation studio, but the mansion has yet to be completed.
By Hollywood standards Clooney's home, which he bought in the early 1990s, is modest but it includes a private 3D cinema. He keeps a pair of President John F Kennedy's ties on his wall.
The money raised by the sweepstake makes it likely the tactic will be repeated by Mr Obama's campaign as he seeks to match Mitt Romney's fundraising power on Wall Street. The $15m figure, a record amount for such an event in any presidential campaign, was more than Mr Obama raised from the entire entertainment industry four years ago.
According to one former fundraiser his public support of gay marriage has "turbo-charged" his support in Hollywood. It marks a resurgence of support after some influential figures had expressed disappointment over his first term handling of issues including Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, and the White House's failure to support the entertainment industry in its battle against online piracy.
Hollywood supporters have also been disappointed by the relative lack of attention Mr Obama has paid them compared to Bill Clinton.
Mr Obama is now using a cadre of key networkers including Mr Katzenberg and Ari Emanuel, the powerful agent and brother of his former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
He also has an unofficial "Hollywood ambassador" Nicole Avant, a former music industry executive who previously served as Ambassador to the Bahamas.
But Kirsten Kukowski, the Republican National Committee press secretary, said: "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."