Hillary Clinton Shifts Hollywood Strategy: Small Events, Big Money

Hillary_Clinton - H 2015
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Hillary_Clinton - H 2015

Obama filled ballrooms, but Clinton is using backyard meet-and-greets to reintroduce herself to industry donors — and it's working.

This story first appeared in the July 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Four years ago, Barack Obama was packing L.A. hotel ballrooms for fast cash for his re-election campaign. But Hillary Clinton is taking a different approach in her second bid for the White House. The former secretary of state is opting for more intimate gatherings in the backyards of such longtime Hollywood friends as producer Steven Bochco and HBO's Michael Lombardo, where she's able to spend more one-on-one time with guests willing to donate $2,700 apiece.

Clinton's approach has served to build a deeper list of small donors who can be tapped again as the campaign progresses and to reintroduce herself to Hollywood — which largely abandoned her for Obama in 2008 — as a warmer, more approachable candidate.

So far, both efforts seem to be working for Clinton, 67, who raised a record $47.5 million during the second quarter, including $4 million from such L.A. donors as Tobey Maguire, Robert Iger, Harvey Weinstein, former ambassador (and wife of Netflix's Ted Sarandos) Nicole Avant, Lionsgate's Jon Feltheimer and Rob Friedman. CAA was particularly active, with more than 50 employees donating, including Kevin Huvane and new Clinton bundler Michael Kives. Even the pickiest Obama supporters have come away from Clinton's events feeling better about her candidacy.

"Her performance at local events has created a nice progression in enthusiasm," says Tennis Channel CEO Ken Solomon, one of Obama's top fundraisers. "In the earliest days of this cycle, people were saying, 'Well, she's not that exciting.' But I have heard it from others and have seen it myself: She's really connecting with people."

By law, Clinton is prohibited from holding big-dollar fundraisers (typically $33,400 a ticket via the DNC) until she wins the Democratic primary. But she is allowed to pack three ballrooms at The Beverly Hilton on one night, as Obama did in 2008. Instead, explains Solomon, "The campaign wants a long ramp-up" with additional smaller events. Strategist Lara Bergthold, who represents Norman Lear and Rob Reiner, says Clinton is giving those in Obama's camp a new view: "People are getting really excited about her here."

But Clinton's meet-and-greet strategy presents a unique challenge: With Clinton unable to raise money for the DNC, Hollywood fundraisers are tasked with bringing in the big dollars, primarily through the pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA Action and DNC events often hosted by Obama. A big push, independent of Clinton, is planned in Hollywood later this summer, largely for Priorities USA Action. Jeffrey Katzenberg and adviser Andy Spahn already have begun raising money for the PAC (Haim Saban reportedly has given the group $2 million.)

Until then, some moguls are enjoying playing politics on a budget. After all the complaints Tom Rothman made in the hacked Sony emails about being hit up for donations, he gave the max, $2,700, last quarter.