What do Anna Wintour, Jerry Springer, and Sarah Jessica Parker have in common? They each attended or hosted a star-studded celebrity fundraiser for President Obama's re-election campaign, a tactic the president's team continues to use liberally.
This summer, George Clooney hosted a celebrity bash that garnered $15 million in donations. An LGBT event headlined by Ellen DeGeneres charged $1,250 a plate. And Tuesday, Beyonce and Jay-Z will co-host another fundraiser for the president, charging $40,000 for entry at Jay-Z's 40/40 club. Last week, Beyonce reached out to Obama supporters in an e-mail, offering them the chance to attend the swanky fundraiser if they donated $9 by midnight.
Obama's celebrity fundraisers have drawn criticism from Republicans and even from his own party. Despite the high price-tag of the celebrity events, the use of a lottery system to include less wealthy donors highlights the Democrats's strategy to increase donations under $250. By explicitly pandering to the celebrity-obsessed tween in all of us, the Obama campaign is fighting against the natural allies of the Republican party — deep-pocketed billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers.
For a former law student from Chicago, President Obama has shown an intuitive knowledge of marketing. While opponents may scoff at his expensive celebrity fundraisers, the Obama team has nimbly neutralized such critics by incorporating the lottery system to allow access for less wealthy donors. By mixing wealthy and more mortal donors, Obama manages to compete with big-dollar Republican donors while also offering incentives for smaller donors to participate. And it's working. In August, Obama's campaign outraised Romney for the first time, with the average donation amounting to only $58. About 70% of Romney donors wrote checks for over $250.
As the first presidential election in a post-Citizens United world, it has made for a strange election cycle. Democrats have been forced to contend with a fundraising disadvantage. The nearly bottomless wealth of Republican supporters has dwarfed the Obama team's fundraising. In July, the Koch brothers hosted a $50,000 a plate fundraiser for Romney. It remains anyone's guess why tickets weren't raffled off to small-dollar donors.
With a president offering face time with celebrities as a fundraising tactic and some Republican donors pledging they will spend whatever it takes to defeat the president, maybe it's time to re-think campaign finance reform.