ATLANTA – Tyler Perry is a man of many talents. He’s an actor, filmmaker, philanthropist, and now has taken on the role of Democratic Party fundraiser.
On Friday, Perry joined President Barack Obama at three pricey fundraising events in Atlanta to raise money for the president’s 2012 re-election campaign. The sold-out events, sponsored by the African-American Leadership Council and Perry, kicked off with a private reception followed by a gala celebration and later on, an evening at the movie mogul’s home. This was the President’s first visit to metro Atlanta in 18 months.
Obama began his fundraising at a private residence where 75 people paid $10,000 each to attend. Tickets for the gala celebration, which attracted 1,000 donors to Perry’s sprawling southwest Atlanta studio, were a hefty $500, though a smaller number sold at $250, according to the campaign. The gala featured a performance by R&B singer and The Voice star Cee-Lo Green.
“This is going to be a hotly contested race,” said Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University. “President Obama can’t take any votes or dollars for granted,” she added.
Perry, an Atlanta native, who spoke briefly before the president took to the stage, said Obama, “speaks to us the possibly of a better today, and better tomorrow, and in that possibly he speaks of four more years.”
Obama certainly did not disappoint the jubilant audience of well-heeled, mainly African-American, supporters. He spoke about his accomplishments: boosting the economy, bailing out the auto industry, health care reform and withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
“Our economy is getting stronger,” said Obama, “What we can’t do is go back to the politics that got us in this mess in the first place.” Yet he did concede, “sometimes it may seem like politics is a bad reality TV show, people arguing, fussing and trying to score points, but when I go to the town halls, the spirit is still there.”
For hardcore supporters, the gala celebration was followed by an opportunity to mingle with Obama at Perry’s luxurious 30,000-square-foot Buckhead mansion, at a cost of $35,800. Oprah Winfrey, a high profile Obama supporter, attended the dinner.
In recent years, Perry has supported a number of causes. Back in 2009, for instance, Perry donated $1 million dollars to the NAACP, the country’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.
“This was a major gift, the largest donation ever given to the NAACP by an individual entertainer,” says Tracey Webb, founder of BlackGivesBack.com, an online blog that chronicles black philanthropy. Perry, who has openly talked about his experiences living on the streets, has also donated to homeless charities, says Webb.
However, this appears to be the first time he has openly endorsed a politician. It’s an attempt by Obama to recapture the euphoria of his 2008 election and appeal to African-Americans, especially upwardly mobile opinion makers, says Gillespie. “What better way to do this than the backing of the “most powerful black figure in Hollywood.”
Perry is following in the footsteps of other celebrities who have used their profile to get involved in politics by campaigning for, or protesting against, certain politicians.
Still, while celebrity political endorsements may generate media coverage and boost fundraising, they could have very little influence on how people vote. “African-Americans will vote for or against Obama regardless of whether they see Oprah or anyone else backing his campaign,” said Alan Abramowitz, professor of political science at Emory University.
It is clear that financial strength is an important factor in the run-up to the general election in November. Obama’s decision to endorse independent groups like Super PACs has helped boost the Republicans, who tend to have wealthy donors, whereas small donors are the backbone of Obama’s campaign.
All proceeds from Friday’s events will go to the Obama victory fund, a joint fundraising committee authorized by Obama for America and the Democratic National Committee.
Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti