Obama finds friends, money in Hollywood

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign launched a weeklong, $1 million fund-raising drive on Wednesday, hot on the heels of a Hollywood gala that raised an even bigger sum for Democratic newcomer Sen. Barack Obama in a single night.

Clinton’s “One Week, One Million” effort, which kicked off with a plea by former President Bill Clinton, pits the two leading Democrats against one another and underscored the significance of fund-raising so early in the 2008 race that is expected to be the most expensive ever.

A Beverly Hills reception for Obama on Tuesday brought in $1.3 million for the Illinois senator’s White House bid, organizers said. Marking the first big showbiz fundraiser of the 2008 campaign cycle, the fete was hosted by DreamWorks co-founders Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

It was followed by a private dinner at Geffen’s home for donors who raised at least $46,000 each for Obama.

The star-studded reception drew such Hollywood names as Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Stiller, Ron Howard, Morgan Freeman and Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines. Others writing checks were studio executives Ron Meyer of Universal Studios and Brad Gray of Paramount Pictures.

While the Clintons have long been top beneficiaries of Hollywood’s political largess, insiders said they expect the entertainment world to donate to multiple candidates.

“The big surprise was the success of Obama,” said Andy Spahn, the political adviser for Spielberg and Katzenberg.

The early vying for support prompted the two Democratic camps to criticize one another after Geffen was quoted in The New York Times calling Clinton “polarizing” and “ambitious” and criticizing her refusal to say she made a mistake by originally supporting the Iraq war.

Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson demanded Obama disavow the producer’s “personal attacks.”

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks to supporters during a rally in Los Angeles, February 20, 2007. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

“How can Senator Obama denounce the politics of slash and burn yesterday while his own campaign is espousing the politics of trash today?” Wolfson asked.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs responded: “We aren’t going to get in the middle of a disagreement between the Clintons and someone who was once one of their biggest supporters.

“It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when he was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln bedroom,” he said.

The early public sniping by the candidates brought to mind charges leveled at former President Clinton during his two terms in office, including that he used the White House as a fund-raising tool.

“The attacks on Hillary haven’t stopped,” the former president said in his online appeal for donations.

“Am I enthusiastic about my wife’s campaign for president? You bet I am.”

Campaign funds raised now, which will be tallied in the first official public accountings in April, speak volumes about candidates’ momentum, staying power and ability to raise even more money, experts say.

“You can’t overstate the importance of money of politics. It’s not only the ability to raise the money ... but it’s who you’re getting the money from,” said Douglas Muzzio, professor of public affairs at The City University of New York.

Clinton planned to travel to Los Angeles for a series of small receptions with donors on Thursday ahead of a March 24 gala back at the home of supermarket magnante Ron Burkle.

Her last West Coast fund-raising event, also hosted by Burkle during her Senate re-election campaign, brought in between $800,000 and $900,000.

Another Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, was scheduled to attend a fund-raiser Wednesday night at the Beverly Hills home of real estate mogul Richard Ziman.

“Most of the campaign work going on now is aimed at the insiders, the elites,” added Andrew Polsky, presidential historian at Hunter College. “It’s for the people with money, it’s for the opinion shapers. The real campaign for the voters, that comes later.”

(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles)