17 September 2008

Obama Goes to Hollywood

So the headlines have been blaring about a $28,500/plate fundraising dinner for Barack Obama last night, one attended by about 300 people (the usual Hollyweird crowd - Will Ferrell, Jodie Foster, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Lee Curtis, Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg...). Barbara Streisand was there singing, so I have to admit, I'm glad I wasn't there.

But it raises a question. I am NOT an expert on presidential fundraising or the laws that govern it (I'm a policy/communications guy...important to "know thyself"), but if memory serves, the legal presidential contribution limit is $2300 per person, no corporate contributions allowed, and all of those people must be US citizens or legal residents, who in turn must also report home address, employer and occupation, etc.

So, if the legal limit is $2300, how do you even legally schedule a $28,500/plate dinner, and have the headline "Obama raises $9M at Hollywood fundraiser"? Isn't the most Obama could raise from 300 people $690K? (I'm a policy guy 'cuz I'm good with the math...) That sounds like more than twelve times the legal limit to me... or is there some weird loophole that lets celebrities give more than normal people?

(Paging Sunny Philips - your expertise is needed today... and we miss your blog)

These have been held previously - most notably one for Hillary in 2005. That one ended badly, with one of the fundraisers getting in federal trouble for breaking campaign finance laws, but for reporting misdeeds, not the clearly obvious "over the limit" thing (The the NY Times has a page up from 2007 that alleges a series of Clinton fundraising abuses.)

Interesting note - McCain, whose monstrous campaign finance law at the least complicates this issue, dinged Obama about the fundraiser with "celebrity friends" but not about the dollar amount.

So why is it legal to hold events that cost 12 times the legal contribution limit to get in? Anyone?


Alex said...

The reason is that fundraisers like these ask people for donations that are spread around various political committees rather then to one specific committee. Bush and the RNC have been doing this for years, and the McCain campaign has had a few of these this year as well.

So if you donate $28,500, that might be $2,300 to the Obama campaign, $5000 to the DNC, $5000 to the DSCC, $5000 to the DCCC, $5000 to the Democratic Governors Association ... you get the idea.

Joshua Gross said...


Thanks for that answer, I do appreciate it. I suspected that was a possibility in this case, but in none of the reporting has that been delineated - and in fact, they've been clear in saying "$9M for the Obama campaign." Makes me wonder who else got the money...


Sunny said...

Hey Joshua--
Alex is essentially correct in that the limits are different because the funds are going to multiple committees. In fact, McCain's campaign is doing something sort of similar, but certainly not to this extent.

Typically the way it works is: first $2300 to the campaign, next $2300 to the legal compliance fund for the campaign, the next contribution (up to $28,500) to the DNC...

Appreciate the shout out too and I also miss the blogging, but there's WAY too much going on for me professionally and otherwise and there just aren't enough hours in the day! Maybe one day soon...


clarendon county mg said...

we all miss the sunny blog