Obama hangs with Clooney in L.A.
This story has been updated.
LOS ANGELES — What would you do if you got to spend three hours at George Clooney’s house? With George Clooney?
That’s how long President Obama spent at the Hollywood star’s luxurious hillside house in Studio City Thursday evening for a $40,000-a-head fundraiser that was expected to collect anywhere from $6 million to $15 million for the president’s reelection campaign.
The setting was actually a party tent on Clooney’s basketball court. Guests included actor Tobey Maguire, who sat to the right of Clooney and his girlfriend, Stacy Kiebler. Nearby was Diane Von Furstenberg. Also spotted: actors and entertainers Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Salma Hayek, Barbra Streisand (at a rear table and looking serious throughout, in black beret) and husband James Brolin.
Walking through Clooney’s house, Obama glimpsed at the “HOPE” poster from the 2008 campaign by Shepard Fairey and told donors: “People don’t realize that the photograph of me is actually me sitting next to George” at an event when Clooney was advocating on behalf of Darfur.
“We struck up a friendship,” Obama said, and then joked, to much laughter: “This is the first time that George Clooney has actually been photo-shopped out of a picture. Never happened before, will never happen again.”
Obama said Fairey did a poster for Clooney with both men on the same picture. “Why he said at the bottom ‘Dope and Hope,’ I don’t know.” More laughter.
“We raised a lot of money because everybody loves George. They like me, they love him. And rightfully so. Not only is he an unbelievable actor, but he is one of those rare individuals who is at ease with everybody. He seems to occupy a constant state of grace, and uses his extraordinary talents on behalf of something truly important.”
Clooney listened intently to the president throughout, his hands folded as if in prayer and his chin resting on them.
Before leaving Los Angeles Friday morning for an event in Reno, Obama played basketball at a city park with staff members and a few special guests including Clooney and Maguire. In Reno, he will visit this afternoon with a couple who were underwater on their home mortgage but took advantage of a program the president launched that enabled them to refinance and take advantage of current, historically low interest rates.
Clooney lives in a charming Tudor house in a verdant setting, which includes a sign on a tree on the winding drive that says “Pot-bellied pig Crossing,” for Clooney’s late pet, Max.
The tent had black walls and a clear roof through which the sky and trees of the wooded property could be seen. White paper lanterns of different sizes hung from the roof, celadon-green wallboards with mirrors were at the front and rear, centerpieces of blue hydrangeas graced each table and two slender, tall white urns flanked the short stage with branches of white blossoms.
DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said the fundraiser had raised “a record nearly $15 million,” a figure that includes both the $40,000-a-person seats in the tent, and the proceeds from the online sweepstakes for two people to join the Hollywood event.
“Once again the entertainment industry has stepped forward in a very big way,” Katzenberg said, naming John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama as beneficiaries.
As he introduced the president, the guests stood for an ovation. The president, not breaking from tradition, was wearing a dark suit and white shirt.
“I want to thank Jeffrey (Katzenberg) not just for this evening, but for his tenacious support and advocacy since we started back in 2007. He has consistently been there for me, through thick and through thin.”
As usual in his political stump speech, the president said the 2008 campaign is sometimes “romanticized” by supporters, and “I have to remind them, no, I was there!”
“The only person I don’t have to remind is Jeffrey because he was there, through all the ups and downs, and occasionally he would call, and he would say, ‘Barack, I don’t think that things are working the way they’re supposed to.’”
“Over the last three and a half years he remained an extraordinary friend. So Jeffrey, thank you. And 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.”
Obama then veered into his familiar stump speech on how bad the situation was when he took office. And he made an oblique reference to his interview Wednesday in which he came out in favor of gay marriage.
“Obviously yesterday we made some news,” he said. “But the truth is, it was a logical extension of what America is supposed to be. It grew directly out of this difference in visions. Are we a country that includes everybody and gives everybody a shot and treats everybody fairly and is that going to make us stronger? Are we welcoming to immigrants? Are we welcoming to people who aren’t like us, does that make us stronger? I believe it does. So that’s what’s at stake.”
In addition to attracting 150 high-dollar donors, the Obama-Clooney fundraiser was marketed by the campaign to everyday supporters who were given the chance to enter a sweepstakes to receive a free ticket to the event.
And the winners were a science teacher from New Jersey and a mom from Florida.
That’s right: Beth Topinka of Manalapen, N.J., and Karen Blutcher of St. Augustine, Fla., are the two lucky ladies who, along with their husbands, won an all-expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles to have dinner Thursday with President Obama and actor George Clooney.
Obama started his West Coast swing Thursday with a stop in Seattle, where he attended a fundraising brunch in the waterside home (on Lake Washington) of Ann and Bruce Blume. Along the way to the brunch, the president’s motorcade passed by a woman and baby who cheered Obama’s announcement the previous day that he supports gay marriage with a bright-yellow sign: “Thank you! Mr. President for standing up for my Mommys.”
About 70 supporters attended the brunch, with tickets costing $17,900.
The president attended a larger fundraiser at the Paramount Theater in downtown Seattle, where he addressed about 1,800 supporters. Tickets started at $1,000 for the event, and singer Dave Matthews performed.
Here is what the Obama campaign released about the winners of the free tickets and their guests:
“Beth [Topinka] is a science teacher who grew up in Ohio and moved to New Jersey as an adult. She supports the president’s work on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) initiatives, as well as his support for Pell Grants and student loan reform. Her son served in the U.S. Navy and was able to attend Penn State on the new G.I. Bill. She invited her husband, Jerry, as her guest.
“Jerry is a jazz guitarist who has played all over the world. His father served as a pilot in WWII, and he grew up in Panama. He’s been playing jazz guitar since he was 16, and currently performs and teaches in New Jersey and New York. He comes from a Republican family but voted for Obama in 2008.
“Karen [Blutcher] is a married mother with a 5-year-old son with Down syndrome. She feels passionately about the president’s work to reform health care and applauds the first lady’s focus on childhood obesity. For 10 years, she’s worked for the public utility company, and before that she worked at a youth nonprofit. She appreciates the president’s efforts to help those who are working hard to support their families and is proud that her career has provided her the opportunity to help others. Her husband, Patrick, will be attending as Karen’s guest.
“Patrick was a basketball player in high school and earned a scholarship to play in college, but opted to enlist in the military instead. He made a career out of avionics — electronic systems used on aircraft — both in the military, and then after he retired as a member of the National Guard.”
The Obama campaign will raise at least $6 million from ticket sales to the the Clooney dinner, but that doesn’t include all the online donations for the dinner-with-Barack-and-George sweepstakes. Several news outlets have reported a take twice that large or more, but the campaign declined to confirm the total.
Proceeds from Thursday’s events will go to Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee authorized by Obama for America, the Democratic National Committee and several state Democratic parties.