Obama fundraising faces test In California

April 19, 2011

President Obama will woo big-money donors in Los Angeles and the Bay Area over the next two days in a trip that will be the first test of whether he can rekindle the embrace from the entertainment and high-tech industries that helped him win in 2008.

Three years after a campaign that featured actors fanning out across the country to stump for Obama, and employees from Google and other high-tech companies joining his team, there have been some signs that fervor for Obama in Hollywood and Silicon Valley has ebbed.

Political strategists say his base of supporters is more sober, perhaps fatigued by recent high-profile state elections. Some Hollywood liberals have also been disappointed by the president’s handling of issues such as same-sex marriage.

Obama is almost certain to win in Democratic-leaning California in 2012 and raise millions of dollars among its highly liberal campaign donors. But it’s not clear whether he can inspire the same kind of enthusiasm that led to a group of entertainers famously creating a “Yes We Can” video that was watched by millions.

“2008 was a unique moment in time, by definition, that’s not going to repeat itself,” said Chris Lehane, a Bay Area-based political strategist who was a top adviser for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign. “But California is still Obama country. He always has had a big base in the money community out there.”

Obama’s trip is part of the “fundraising kickoff” for his 2012 campaign, which included a group of events in Chicago last week and will continue to New York City next Wednesday.

His packed, star-studded two days on the West Coast include six fundraisers and two town halls, including one Wednesday at the Palo Alto headquarters of Facebook.

On Wednesday evening, he will attend a small dinner hosted by Salesforce.com chief executive Marc Benioff in San Francisco’s regal Pacific Heights neighborhood that will require each guest to donate $35,800 to Obama’s reelection campaign.

The next morning, Obama will attend another expensive fundraiser, fly to Reno, Nev., for a campaign-style speech in that swing state before going to Los Angeles for three fundraisers, including one at Sony Pictures Studios featuring actor Jamie Foxx.

Also on his schedule is a dinner at the Brentwood restaurant Tavern, which film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and recording executive Berry Gordy are expected to attend, according to the Hollywood newspaper Variety. In total, Obama is likely to raise more than $4 million on his trip, just a tiny fraction of the millions he would need to match the $750 million he raised in 2008.

For fundraising, California may be more critical for Obama than in 2008. His campaign may raise less money among New York’s financial community because some on Wall Street remain angry over his support of a financial regulatory reform bill as well as his rhetoric, which at times has blamed bankers for the financial crisis.

In 2008, out of the total given by people working in the financial-services sector, 48 percent went to Democrats and 52 percent to Republicans, which is fairly typical in recent elections. In last year’s midterm elections, the money swung heavily to the Republicans — 39 percent to Democrats and 60 percent to the GOP.

Employees of high-tech companies also shifted their giving away from the Democrats. In 2008, 70 percent of this money went to the party but fell to 55 percent last fall, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

While annoyance with Obama has been public and frequent on Wall Street, it is less clear what is behind the shift among high-tech executives and employees. Some of the 2010 swing may be because of the high-profile campaigns of tech luminaries Meg Whitman, former chief executive of eBay, and Carly Fiorina, former head of Hewlett-Packard, both of whom ran unsuccessfully as Republicans in California races.

In Hollywood, some of the 2008 campaign fire has been tempered by the realities of governing, analysts say. DreamWorks founder David Geffen, who was an ardent fundraiser for Obama in 2008, recently joined a group of celebrities in releasing a public letter urging Obama to support same-sex marriage, a cause the president is highly unlikely to adopt. Matt Damon, an enthusiastic Obama backer in 2008, said in recent interviews that the president has “misinterpreted his mandate,” and he criticized Obama for centrist policies that, in the actor’s view, are too favorable to Wall Street.

Yet Obama’s technology and anti-piracy policies have been well-received by Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

The president appointed a White House adviser to help stop piracy of movies and music on the Internet, an issue that is critical to Hollywood. The nation’s first chief technology officer has advised the president on friendly policies on Internet access, and Obama has promised to blanket the country with wireless connections in five years, which would be a boon to technology firms.

“He is the first president that gets technology, speaks their language and has appointed key people with technology expertise,” said Markham Erickson, a high-tech and media lobbyist representing firms such as Google and Bloomberg for Holch & Erickson law firm. “So he added a new facet that maybe didn’t change the way someone may have voted Democratic or Republican, but he added oxygen to the fire.”

Staff writer Jia Lynn Yang contributed to this report.

Cecilia Kang is a national technology reporter, writing about tech and Internet policies at the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission and how regulations affect businesses and consumers.
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