How Clooney and Katzenberg Found Themselves Hosts of Obama's Epic Fundraiser (Exclusive)

Barack Obama George Clooney Split - H 2012
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Barack Obama George Clooney Split - H 2012

The backstory of what might be the biggest presidential fundraiser ever is a tale of serendipity and lottery mania.

Call it chance, serendipity or blind luck, but what is shaping up to be this presidential election’s biggest one-night fundraiser came together as the creature of totally unforeseen circumstances. In the end, the tale of how George Clooney and Jeffrey Katzenberg came to co-host a dinner for Barack Obama at the actor’s Studio City home is a bit like the backstory on a surprise blockbuster.

This time, though, a part of that story is being written in the new world of online fundraising, where -- according to a source in the Obama re-election campaign -- an Internet contest to win tickets good for two seats at the table with the president and Clooney is “going wild.”

Insiders tell The Hollywood Reporter that the May 10 dinner could raise twice the amount originally anticipated -- a whopping $10 million -- which would make it the biggest one-night presidential fundraiser in history. Tickets to the event are priced at $40,000 apiece, and organizers had hoped to sell about 125 of them in Southern California. Demand, however, has turned out to be strong nationwide.

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But the big story is that when all the money is counted, there's a good chance that less than half will have come from people dining with the president and Clooney. The rest of the campaign cash -- which could top $5 million -- is likely to come from the online contest, sources say. While federal law prohibits charging for a ticket in the drawing, there is a “suggested donation” of $3.

For months, Democratic organizers said that Katzenberg -- who has emerged as the president’s biggest Hollywood donor in this electoral cycle -- would host a major springtime fundraiser for the chief executive. The venue was to be the sprawling new mansion the DreamWorks Animation chief has been building for his family on a coveted site in the exclusive Trousdale Estates section of Beverly Hills.

But after it became clear that the house wouldn't be ready in time, the search began for an alternative venue. A hotel ballroom wouldn’t do for the ambience the organizers had in mind, and -- believe it or not -- not every private mansion of the rich, famous and Democratic is suited to host a president.

There's always a long list concerns when choosing a venue for a presidential visit, including access and geography. A motorcade can clog even the broadest of streets. (Just ask the residents of Hancock Park.)

In addition to Clooney's house, organizers also took a look at the Brentwood home of actress Reese Witherspoon, who attended the recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner and, according to campaign sources, has been looking for ways to get more involved in Obama’s re-election effort. But in the end they decided that Clooney's abode was a better fit.

A call to the president’s old pal George was placed, and the rest is about to be campaign history.