Sen. John F. Kerry scooped up $5 million for his presidential bid in a lavish gala in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday night that featured an array of Hollywood heavy hitters who took center stage in calling for President Bush’s defeat.
The Democratic presidential hopeful was feted by entertainers such as Barbra Streisand, Billy Crystal and Willie Nelson at a two-hour program before 2,000 donors at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Though Streisand and Nelson represent longtime liberal voices from the music industry, a parade of younger Hollywood celebrities was on hand as well, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, Jamie Foxx and Ben Stiller lending their names and time to Kerry’s candidacy.
At a pre-show dinner in an airy foyer of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where top donors dined on shrimp and filet mignon, Kerry embraced Streisand and glad-handed a roster of political and entertainment heavyweights: actor Robert De Niro, producer Harvey Weinstein, former California Gov. Gray Davis, City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa and mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg.
Kerry noted that speaking out about politics was “not something that everybody in show business chooses to do.”
“Celebrate with me, if you will, each of those tonight who have chosen to put their beliefs out front for America to understand on behalf of our country. And we’re grateful to each of you,” he said.
He called the gathering of stars “stunning” and noted that his eldest daughter, Alexandra, had just graduated from film school in Los Angeles.
“I figured out that now that she is in the movie business, she has an opportunity to rise to the pinnacle of your business, which is governor of California,” he joked, making reference to actor-turned-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Star-powered fundraisers are staples of the Southern California political scene, but Thursday’s fully orchestrated concert was substantially more elaborate than the usual mansion-based soirees.
A similar concert featuring Jon Bon Jovi, Mary J. Blige and the Dave Matthews Band, among others, is scheduled for July 8 in New York.
Thursday’s fundraiser, which was hastily rescheduled this month after the death of former President Reagan, capped a fruitful two-day visit to California for the presumptive Democratic nominee.
He spent much of his trip surrounded by entertainment celebrities and business luminaries, and also addressed 5,000 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Anaheim.
Earlier, during a morning stop in San Jose, Kerry picked up the endorsement of renowned Chrysler executive Lee Iacocca, who backed Bush in the 2000 presidential election.
Intel Chief Executive Andrew Grove joined Kerry for breakfast, and a Wednesday evening fundraiser in Silicon Valley drew the likes of director Rob Reiner and Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt.
In all, Kerry raised $9.5 million in 48 hours -- about a million dollars every five hours and 20 minutes. The donations will help finance his campaign and the Democratic National Committee, as well as a joint campaign fund controlled by the DNC and the Kerry campaign.
DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe told reporters that Hollywood entertainers who attended the fundraiser were “all obsessed with beating George Bush” and would be even more visible in the Kerry campaign in the months to come.
“We plan on using entertainers extensively,” he said, particularly in appealing to undecided voters and young people.
Affleck said he wasn’t sure his efforts would sway any votes, but he believes the entertainment industry can help spark interest in the election.
“Really, the celebrities are the ones who have something to lose.... We like people from both sides of the aisle to come see our movies and concerts,” he said. Still, he called Hollywood’s heightened political interest “a healthy thing” and said it should not be discouraged.
When asked why he was backing Kerry’s candidacy, the actor said he saved $1.5 million in federal income tax last year, thanks to Bush’s tax cuts. Affleck asked, “Does anyone here think that’s appropriate?”
Inside the hall, a partisan crowd cheered as Nelson performed classics like “On the Road Again” and Crystal cracked jokes. “I realize that 9/11 is also his SAT scores,” the comedian said of Bush.
Some speakers struck a more somber tone, bemoaning the state of the country under the current administration.
Streisand performed her 1964 hit “People,” but with new lyrics: “Rumsfeld, we must get rid of Rumsfeld/He’s the spookiest person in the world.... This war we’re lost in/Don’t ask what it’s costing/What’s a trillion or two to rule the world?”
At the end of the concert, Kerry sought to end the evening on a more positive note. While agreeing there is much frustration with the Bush administration, he added: “We’re not just motivated by the things we don’t like. We’re motivated by the things we love.”
Across the street from Disney Hall, a cluster of Bush supporters toted signs with slogans such as “Kerry is not Catholic.” Some of the 50 or so demonstrators held inflatable dolphins, with one of the supporters dressed as Flipper, in a jab at Kerry’s reputation among Republicans as flip-flopping on issues.
Earlier in the day, Iacocca told several hundred people at San Jose State University that he was moved to join Kerry’s campaign out of concern that the country was going in the wrong direction.
“All of my best friends are Republicans, and they ask me: ‘Are you crazy or something? Why are you doing this?’ ” Iacocca recounted with a chuckle. “Well, simple. I tell them the world is changing....We need a leader who will level with us about how we can adapt to that change and make things change for the better.”
The 79-year-old retired auto executive, who backed Reagan in the 1980s and appeared in a campaign ad for Bush in 2000, said he planned to actively campaign for Kerry in the fall.