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Will Obama cash big checks from SoCal donors?

U.S. President Barack Obama is attended a fundraiser today in Corona Del Mar, a wealthy, beachside town in South Orange County.
U.S. President Barack Obama is attended a fundraiser today in Corona Del Mar, a wealthy, beachside town in South Orange County.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

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Politicos in fundraising circles refer to California as a giant ATM. President Barack Obama is back in the Southland to make some big withdrawals. He got an early start this morning for a breakfast at a Corona del Mar home.

The invitation from real estate developer Jeff Stack reads: “Obama for America invites you to join President Barack Obama for a breakfast with supporters like you,” according to a local paper. There were tickets for as low as $2,500 per person, with a $10,000 photo reception, and $35,800 tickets for an afternoon reception later in the day.

“One of the most expensive photos I’ve ever gotten,” joked Wylie Aitken, top 20 donor at the Corona del Mar breakfast and former long-time Chairman of the Democratic Foundation of Orange County.

Last night, Obama was hosted by the Hollywood set. Actor and comedian Will Ferrell co-hosted a dinner with soap opera mogul Bradley Bell (of “The Bold and the Beautiful” fame). Rock ‘n roll entertainment for the moneybags-Democrats came compliments of The Foo Fighters, fresh from their five-Grammy win on Sunday. Entrance for that dinner cost up to $38,500 a person. According to Matea Gold of the Los Angeles Times, they raked in 3 million from the effort.

In 2008, nearly a hundred wealthy Californians used their fundraising power to pull in at least $15 million. Going into 2011, similar “bundlers” across the country have raised $74.4 million for the reelection campaign so far, and according to Gold, much of the big donors hail from
Southern California.

“So far this cycle, Obama has raised more than 1 in 5 dollars from Californians, and Southern Californians are obviously a big part of that,” she said. “A lot of it is money from the entertainment industry.”

Tinseltown titans are an essential source of funding for Obama. And though there have been some frustrations with the Obama administration so far, Hollywood majors like producer Jeffrey Katzenberg still have shelled out large sums for Obama’s reelection campaign.

“We spoke to a lot of people in Hollywood about these fundraisers last night, because this comes on the heels of efforts by Hollywood to pass some anti piracy measures that the Obama administration did not get behind as fully as they would have liked,” Gold continued. “There is some frustration on some level, but that does not seem to be stemming any of the campaign contributions.”

Gold said that’s in part to the ideological reasons people donate. “People care about abortion rights, people care about the environment; there are many other topics that are motivating donors in Hollywood,” she said.

Wylie Aitken, top 20 donor who was present at Thursday morning’s fundraiser, said Obama’s speech resonated with him.

“He certainly focused on the issue with the economy, he certainly talked about defense spending – a big issue in Southern California – he talked, obviously, about global warming, and he really talked about [...] where this great adventure started four years ago and where it is now, and all the unfinished work,” Aitken recalled.

Aitken isn’t an entertainment industry man, and he said donors run the gamut of professions. Moreover, he’s from Orange County which is known to be lacking in Democratic heavy-hitters. Aitken maintains that there is a solid base of Democrats in the O.C.

“That’s a total misnomer. There are more democrats in Orange County than there are in San Francisco,” he said. “Great number of democrats, but of course, more Republicans.”

The L.A. Times’ Matea Gold said people should expect much more money to flow in on the Democratic side once the Republican challenger has been nominated. “A lot of people who have raised large sums in the past have told us that they’re really waiting to get engaged once there is a general election,” she said.

So we’ll see what part SoCal money plays as Obama’s campaign really kicks off in spring or summer.


How much money is the campaign hoping to raise in California and across the country? Will the 2008 donors ante up again? How tough is it get big dollars from Orange County? What is the payoff for donors? How often do they get special treatment and White House jobs?


Matea Gold, reporter covering money & politics, Washington Bureau, Los Angeles Times

Wylie Aitken, Top 20 donor at the Corona del Mar breakfast; Former long-time Chairman of the Democratic Foundation of Orange County;