Hollywood's fundraising elite feels the Buttigieg buzz

Hollywood's fundraising elite feels the Buttigieg buzz
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The surest sign that South Bend Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegSanders to headline Iowa event amid impeachment trial Hill.TV's Krystal Ball on Sanders-Warren feud: 'Don't play to the pundits, play to voters' Poll: Sanders holds 5-point lead over Buttigieg in New Hampshire MORE’s presidential campaign is moving up to a higher level: Hollywood’s wealthy and influential gay community is backing him.

This may seem like no big deal — after all, Buttigieg is the first openly gay Democratic presidential candidate. But, if you know the politics of Hollywood fundraising, this actually is a huge step that should not be overlooked.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, an event on June 19 in Los Angeles will include some of the biggest names among the entertainment industry’s gay donor elite: Ryan Murphy (creator of the TV series “Glee”), producer Greg Berlanti (“Dawson’s Creek,” “Riverdale”), super-agents Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane.

These people have money. (A year ago, Netflix lured Murphy away from Fox with what is believed to be the biggest TV deal ever, worth as much as $300 million.) And because they have this kind of cash, they are hit up continually for campaign donations.


That has made this group among the most politically savvy donors around. Many of them hire consultants to advise them on where to send their checks, and they tend to be hard-nosed realists when it comes to backing winners. They do not boost symbolic candidates for the fun of it.

They supported Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaNational Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo Climate 'religion' is fueling Australia's wildfires Biden's new campaign ad features Obama speech praising him MORE, even though it took him years to formally push for same-sex marriage. And the community was a big and early backer of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSupreme Court agrees to hear 'faithless elector' cases Poll: Sanders holds 5-point lead over Buttigieg in New Hampshire Climate 'religion' is fueling Australia's wildfires MORE despite the fact that, as the New York Times reported, she “does not have the most cutting-edge record when it comes to gay rights.” But none of that got in the way of supporting someone who could win it all.

Make no mistake: This is fundraising season in Hollywood. Shortly after entering the ring, candidates fly out to face potential donors — getting their first sense of how real their campaign is viewed.

At this stage, most of these events have a “take a look” feel: The price of entry isn’t high; the idea is to just meet the candidate, take his or her measure. I was at that kind of gathering last month in Beverly Hills for Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSanders to headline Iowa event amid impeachment trial On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Sanders defends vote against USMCA | China sees weakest growth in 29 years | Warren praises IRS move on student loans Poll: Sanders holds 5-point lead over Buttigieg in New Hampshire MORE (D-Minn.). It was a mid-sized group, covering a wide range of potential Hollywood donors — and included some of the names now set to attend Buttigieg’s June event. The feel was intentionally low-key; I didn’t see anyone reach for a checkbook, not right then, not yet. That wasn't the point.

But the Buttigieg fundraiser has bigger buzz; the high-level names make it feel like more than just a meet-and-greet. Many of the donors set to attend his event had already shown up earlier this year at a fundraiser for Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 MORE (D-Calif.) — and that, too, was more than a “look-see.” They knew her: They had supported her Senate run in 2016, sensing a winner then. And they started to circle around her in this early phase of the 2020 presidential campaign.

Mayor Pete’s gathering will put him in the same category as Harris, at least in the eyes of this discerning group of veteran donors. They have made the calculation that he is doing more than tilting at windmills. They don’t need a quixotic hero who will fight bravely and lose with dignity in service to a greater cause. That’s fine on the big screen — it leaves everyone misty-eyed over the closing credits — but, in real-world politics, the stakes are too high.

No — they think Buttigieg has shown that he’s got what it takes to play in the big time. Just what that’s worth in dollars-and-cents will become apparent on June 19.

Joe Ferullo is an award-winning media executive, producer and journalist and former executive vice president of programming for CBS Television Distribution. He was a news executive for NBC, a writer-producer for “Dateline NBC,” and has worked for ABC News and as a reporter or essayist for such publications as Rolling Stone magazine, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Village Voice. Follow him on Twitter @ironworker1.