A humorous piece about attending fundraisers

July 01, 2004

Fundraiser Mania
Councilperson Charlotte Laws, Ph.D.

It was never a close game; Los Angeles had the all-star team with Willie Nelson, Ben Affleck, Dustin Hoffman, Jamie Foxx and dozens of other first-rate players. San Francisco had a rookie named Gavin Newsom who missed the entire game obviously due to a “big-league” engagement, and San Jose had Rob Reiner and Carole King and no other “hitters.”

I am talking about the three recent John Kerry fundraisers, and yes, I impetuously attended all three. It’s not that I’m a Kerry devotee and frankly, I’m not even a Democrat with my “decline to state” status, but my schedule just happened to coincide with all three events. Why miss forking over thousands of dollars, especially when one can waste them on the financially insatiable political process?

Although the volunteers and campaign staff surely did their best, the disorganized Kerry breakfast in San Francisco was a 4, on a 1 to 10 scale. When you consider the $1000 price tag for the event, it was more like a 2. Invitees waited in winding lines like the Delta ticket counter in order to have their metal detected. I was found to be metallic due to the zippers on my boots. Zippers on my boots? “You’ve gotta be kidding?” I grinned at the somber Secret Service man.

The tables were crammed together like an overstocked furniture store; there could be no waiters because even the guests had to squeeze into their chairs. The cold breakfast was already on our plates and for a vegetarian such as myself, it was a culinary nightmare. The sausage was touching my other food, thus resulting in severe contamination, and of course, mental anguish. My attorney will be contacting the Kerry campaign tomorrow. I drank not only my orange juice, but the juice belonging to the absent guest to my left, before parceling out my food to the carnivores at my table.

The speeches delivered by the Senator and other stage-bound supporters were satisfactory, especially the bit about “top ten reasons to vote for Kerry” and the answer, “He is the only candidate who can pronounce Abu Ghraib.”

It was announced that Gavin Newsom had come and gone. Before the event even began? How indicative of what the morning would be like: a less than adequate experience for the guests, although rather profitable, I would assume, for the Kerry camp.

The $500 – $1000 per person San Jose event that evening was so poorly planned that I left before the event started. I figured maybe Gavin Newsom was on to something. Several guests followed my lead. The lines were not like an airline ticket counter; they were more like soup lines under a repressive, Communist regime, curving down the street, onto the next block, past the third traffic light.
Luckily, I was escorted into the event early as a VIP by the Kerry people. I’m not really a VIP, but because I just got elected to my first minor political position, some people are impressed. This is especially true at an event deprived of major league players.

There were meat-filled hors d’oeuvres, severe overcrowding and no where to sit; in fact there were only ten “already taken” chairs in the entire place. What about the little old grandmothers and their orthopedic shoes? I half expected the Fire Marshall to burst through the door, but of course, “bursting” would have been difficult. I wondered about the clueless refugees lined up on the sidewalks. Where would they be placed?

The Los Angeles fundraiser at Walt Disney Hall on the following evening consisted of a top-notch concert, with a pre-show dinner for couples who wanted to spend $10,000 – $25,000 to eat with Senator Kerry and his wife. Why buy a car when you can have mashed potatoes and a steak?
The lines into the auditorium were refreshingly short and orderly until the high-paying guests came out of their dinner and crowded around the entrances, refusing to stand in line with the commoners–you know people like myself who had spent less than $5000 for a ticket.

People did not immediately take their seats in the concert hall: the studio executives and talent talked “deal-making,” while the elected California officials–of which there were many–shook hands and flashed the expected smiles. As a novice politician, I watched and wondered why superficial cordiality is a prerequisite to political success, at least for everyone except Governor Jerry Brown—now Oakland’s Mayor—who rarely smiles, but has miraculously “made it” on talent. I figure I’d better stick with superficiality until I can prove otherwise. I shook a lot of hands.

The show began. With a theatrical waive upwards, Billy Crystal burst onto the stage, “Hello, people in the cheap seats.” There was a roar from the $1000 per person balcony area.

He continued, “Some people paid $25,000 to be here. And I have friends who don’t even make that much in a day.”
Robert De Niro, Leonardo Dicaprio, Ben Stiller and other actors introduced performers to the stage. The teleprompters were in full use for everyone except Neil Diamond; even the words to Barbra Streisand’s songs were on the three carefully positioned screens. She’s quite talented, but doesn’t she know the words to her greatest hits by now?

John Garamendi and Robert Duvall sat near my third row seat, while Governor Gray Davis was situated many rows behind. Was this to convey a message of some sort? Perhaps his premium ticket was recalled, replaced, or rather terminated? I abandoned this idea when Senator Kerry and his wife sat in the audience fairly near Davis.
Along with a handful of people, I was taken backstage after the show to meet Senator Kerry at the backstage party where there were as many secret service agents as guests. I started with a provocative comment, “My friend Sheila gave you and your wife and massage a couple of weeks ago in Santa Monica, and she told me all the details.”

Without missing a beat, Kerry laughed, “Yes. She was great. She knows about all the kinks.” I was impressed with him; he seemed sincere and was perhaps deserving of my vote.

The Kerry campaign raised $5 million dollars that night and $9.5 million from all three California events. I can tell you frankly that there is such thing as being “fundraised out” and that L.A. clearly won the game, mostly because politics IS show business. And who better to master the art of the show than Hollywood?

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