With Hollywood on Strike, Biden Leans on Broadway Stars in Hunt for Campaign Cash

September 18, 2023

NEW YORK (AP) — President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign is getting some big-name fundraising help Monday from Broadway’s top stars.

With members of the Writers Guild of America and actors from SAG-AFTRA on strike, Biden is avoiding Hollywood for now and turning to the theater, with Sara Bareilles, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt among those scheduled to appear at a fundraising concert on behalf of the president.

Theatrical work in the U.S. is overseen and contracted by the Actors’ Equity Association, whose some 51,000 American actors and stage managers remain on the job.

Both Biden and first lady Jill Biden will attend the event, with tickets ranging from $250 to $7,500. Biden will also take part in another private fundraiser in Manhattan on Monday.

Biden, who is set to address the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, arrived in New York on Sunday evening so he could squeeze in the fundraisers as the end of the quarter for federal election reporting on fundraising nears. The early arrival also allowed him to attend a birthday celebration for one of his grandchildren at a swanky downtown restaurant.

Writers have been on strike for 4 1/2 months over issues including pay, job security and regulating the use of artificial intelligence. SAG-AFTRA members went on strike on July 14.

Southern California, the home of extraordinary wealth and the engine of the film and television industry, has historically served as an ATM for the Democratic Party.

Since at least Bill Clinton, Democratic presidents have cultivated intimate ties with powerful figures in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Biden himself raised roughly $1 million during an early 2020 campaign fundraiser at the home of Michael Smith and James Costos, a former HBO executive. That event was attended by former DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, now a Biden campaign co-chair.

The ongoing actors and writers strike has ground that to a halt. At least for now.

Biden is the most vocally pro-union president in decades, and is mindful of staying on the right side of labor, a key constituency. As long as the strike goes on, he has been advised by Katzenberg to steer clear, according to three people with direct knowledge of the guidance who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal planning details.

Biden has kept a tepid fundraising schedule since announcing he reelection campaign in April, worrying some donors who believe the president needs to start stockpiling massive amounts of cash now for the brutal campaign that lies ahead. Still, campaign officials say they are raising plenty of money during big-dollar events –- just not anywhere near Los Angeles.

“Joe Biden is the most pro-labor president that I can recall in my lifetime. He is true to his word on that,” said Chris Korge, who serves a dual role as finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee, as well as the Biden Victory Fund, the chief fundraising committee for Biden’s reelection. “The president will decide when is the right time to go, but it’s not impacting our fundraising ability at all.”

Some Biden allies worry that time is wasting. And they note Biden could still raise money from southern California donors who are not affiliated with the entertainment industry.

Even that could prove perilous. The potential of a picket line forming outside the gates of a multimillion-dollar home would present made-for-TV fodder that would only serve to underscore the reality that even a pro-labor president must raise cash from wealthy tycoons who have far more in common with Hollywood studio heads than rank-and-file union members. Add to that the fact that Katzenberg is himself a former studio head, and is still viewed by many as an extension of the Hollywood aristocracy.

“You’re running a risk. Raising money at a hotel, or somebody’s home in LA, enlists the possibility you could have demonstrators outside. That would make the whole thing look negative,” said Mickey Kantor, a former U.S. commerce secretary who served as chairman of Clinton’s 1992 campaign. “It’s probably the only decision (Biden) could make. Why would you make a controversy you don’t need to?”

Biden and the DNC raised more than $72 million for his reelection in the 10 weeks after he announced his 2024 candidacy, his campaign announced in July. It was a strong but not a record performance by an incumbent.

Former President Donald Trump ’s campaign raised more than $35 million for his White House bid during the second fundraising quarter, nearly double what he raised during the first three months of the year. Trump remains the GOP front-runner despite facing indictments in four different jurisdictions.

Others set to perform at Monday’s Broadway fundraiser include Annaleigh Ashford, Alex Edelman, Josh Gad, Christopher Jackson, LaChanze, Ruthie Ann Miles, Leslie Odom Jr., Andrew Rannells, Aaron Tveit and Betsy Wolfe.

Thomas Kail will direct, with music supervision by Alex Lacamoire. Additional contributors for the event include Andy Blankenbuehler, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and Amanda Green.

Biden will turn his attention to diplomacy on Tuesday and Wednesday at the annual gathering of world leaders at the U.N. After his Wednesday diplomatic engagements, Biden will squeeze in two more fundraisers in New York before returning to Washington.


Slodysko reported from Washington.


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