Obama's First State Dinner: High Rolling Top Donors, Bundlers Among Elites Invited

Venture capitalists, Hollywood high rollers and Chicago billionaires were among a host of top Barack Obama donors invited to the administration's first White House state dinner last night, continuing a Washington, D.C. tradition of rewarding loyal and well-heeled supporters with access to influential movers and shakers, campaign finance watchdog groups said.

"This is very reflective of what has been in the past," Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, told ABCNews.com. "These are typically very lavish occasions and a top ticket in Washington, so what better way to reward your top donors and bundlers than with a sumptuous affair."

VIDEO: President Obamas State Dinner Toast

At least 30 top Democratic donors and bundlers received the highly-coveted invitations to dine and mingle with members of Congress, administration officials, celebrities and prominent Indian-Americans under a massive tent erected on the White House lawn especially for the dinner honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Campaign finance watchdogs said Obama's invitee list to his first state dinner follows a precedent set by previous Democratic and Republican administrations.

Inviting such high rollers is "nothing new," said Krumholz, who described it as a "time-honored tradition in Washington."

The list of donors represented three of Obama's key sources of cash – Chicago billionaires, Hollywood moguls and wealth financiers – as well as an emerging source of Democratic support, Indian-Americans.

Historic Figures Gather at State Dinners


Among the billionaire elite from Chicago were Jim and Paula Crown of the powerful Chicago Crown family, which ranked #75 on the 2008 Forbes list of Richest Americans with an estimated $4.8 billion. They both raised at least $500,001 for Obama.

Also invited was real estate heiress and businesswoman Penny Pritzker, who was the national finance chair of Obama's campaign and raised at least $200,000.


The Hollywood power trio of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen are longtime Democratic moneymen, each securing an invite to Obama's first state dinner. Krumholz calls them the "SKG trifecta."

Katzenberg and Geffen raised a minimum of $500,000 each for the Obama presidential campaign, while Spielberg raised between $100,000 and $200,000.


James Torrey's financial contributions to Obama's political career also didn't go unnoticed last night. Torrey, the chief executive at the New York-based hedge fund Torrey Associates, raised at least $500,000 for Obama and was one of the President's earliest campaign supporters who hosted a fundraiser and book party for the presidential hopeful at his apartmennt.

Also there were San Francisco venture capitalist Mark Gorenberg and Miami attorney and notable Democratic fundraiser Kirk Wagar, who both brought in at least $500,000 for Obama.

Among other invitees to the lavish affair was Obama's longtime friend and top fundraiser John Rogers. Rogers, chairman, CEO and chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, raised at least $500,000 for Obama. His former wife, Desiree, raised at least $200,000 for Obama before being named the White House Social Secretary.

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