Obama's Early Donors: Hollywood Stars Contribute In Droves
WASHINGTON -- In a sequel to President Obama's celebrity-laden 2008 campaign, many of Hollywood's biggest stars are on his donor rolls again in 2012, according to the latest FEC records.
Since April, big-screen stars George Clooney, Will Ferrell and Tom Hanks have all contributed to Obama's re-election campaign, as have Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Garner, Michael Keaton and Eddie Murphy.
Small screen stars also donated in droves, including talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, "30 Rock's" Alec Baldwin, "Glee's" Jane Lynch, "House" star Jennifer Morrison, "Lost" creator JJ Abrams, "Monk" star Tony Shalhoub, Yeardley Smith (aka Lisa Simpson), "The Big C's" Oliver Platt, "Frasier" star David Hyde Pierce and former "ER" star Anthony Edwards.
And while it may come as little surprise that Hollywood's elites are backing a Democratic candidate, the sheer number of headlining stars who have donated to a candidate this early on in a presidential campaign is unprecedented.
In addition to the actors, movie producers and studio executives also dot the donor list, like Brian Grazer, Steven Spielberg, Dreamworks' Jeffrey Katzenberg, Disney chairman John Pepper and "Sex and the City" co-creator Michael Patrick King.
Grammy-winning musicians James Taylor and Will.I.Am also sent in donations, as did singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb. From the ranks of radio came "Prairie Home Companion's" Garrison Keillor and Tom Joyner, of the syndicated "Tom Joyner Morning Show."
Unlike most wealthy political donors, celebrity backers can offer a candidate more than just a lot of money. Obama's campaign harnessed their endorsements through a series of video messages that became instant YouTube sensations. Celebs can also add star-power to otherwise mundane campaign rallies. In 2008, thousands of Oprah Winfrey fans attended Obama campaign events where she appeared in person. Winfrey has already said she'll help the president with his 2012 re-election efforts.
The donors listed above gave to one of Obama's two main campaign entities, the Obama For America (OFA) fund and the Obama Victory Fund (OVF). The OFA fund is a direct campaign account, and individual donations are limited to $2,500. The OVF is shared with the Democratic National Committee, and individuals are allowed to contribute much more -- a maximum of $35,800 each.
Plenty of celebrities took this route: Ferrell, Paltrow, Clooney, Hanks, Smith, DeGeneres, Murphy, Taylor, Spielberg, Glazer, Katzenberg and Joyner all gave $35,800 to the OVF. Lynch and Pierce each gave $10,000.
The next step for Obama campaign strategists is to determine how best to utilize each of the famous faces. In addition to campaign trail appearances and videos, Hollywood royalty can host splashy, high-profile fundraisers on the L.A. party circuit, recruiting more donors and garnering valuable free press for the campaign. But there's a potential drawback for Obama to all this Hollywood love. Republican challengers will likely use the president's famous (and famously liberal) fans to feed the perception that Obama is out of touch with everyday Americans. Until the U.S. economy improves, expect to see celebrities deployed very cautiously on the president's campaign trail.