Fundraiser Mania

Charlotte Laws Official articles website

Not long after I got elected to the Greater Valley Glen Council, Kayla confronted me. “You never do anything fun anymore, Mom.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.  

“You haven’t crashed a celebrity event in years. I guess that’s what happens when people get old.”

A week later, I did what any annoyed parent would do: I finagled myself into three, star-studded fundraisers. They were designed to raise money for Senator John Kerry, who was the Democratic presidential nominee at the time. It’s not that I was a Kerry devotee and frankly, I was 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? Actually, I spent zero. Party-crashing was the only ticket I could afford. 

Ben Affleck, Charlotte Laws and Ben Stiller
Ben Affleck, Charlotte Laws and Ben Stiller

Although volunteers and campaign staff surely did their best, the disorganized Kerry breakfast in San Francisco was a four on a one to ten scale. When you consider the $1,000 price tag for the event, it was more like a two. I was able to wiggle into the event with a City Attorney friend who had bought a ticket. We waited with hundreds of other people in winding lines like the Delta ticket counter in order to have our 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 vegan, 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 would be contacting the Kerry campaign. 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.

It was announced that San Francisco Mayor 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.

Neil Diamond and Charlotte Laws
Neil Diamond and Charlotte Laws

The $500 – $1,000 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. 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 was not really a VIP, but because I’d been elected to my council, some people were impressed. This was especially true at events deprived of major league players.

There were meat-filled hors d’oeuvres, severe overcrowding, and nowhere to sit. In fact, there were only ten already-taken chairs in the entire place. What about the 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 sidewalk. 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 $25,000 to eat with Senator Kerry and his wife. Why buy a car when you can have mashed potatoes and a steak?

Charlotte Laws and John Kerry
Charlote Laws and Senator John Kerry

The lines into the auditorium were refreshingly short and orderly until the high-paying guests came out of their pricey dinner and crowded around the entrances, refusing to stand in line with the commoners—you know, people who had spent less than $5,000 for a ticket. They seemed to be thinking, “I paid big bucks, and I’m not about to wait in line.”

I had been lingering on the sidewalk without a gatecrashing game plan, until I realized the big donors presented a big opportunity. I shimmied into their collage of colorful party gowns and during the excitement of the moment, gained entrance. I went through Secret Service screening. Thankfully no boot zippers or other metal accoutrements set off sirens.

As I ascended a final escalator into the bash, a Secret Service agent yelled at me, “I didn’t see your ticket. Come back here.”

I pretended to be deaf. Luckily, no one came after me.

People did not immediately take their seats in the concert hall. Studio executives and talent talked “deal-making,” while the elected California officials—of which there were many—flashed the expected smiles. As a novice politician, I shook a lot of hands, and grabbed an empty seat on the third row.

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 $1,000 per person balcony.

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 three carefully positioned screens. She’s quite talented, but doesn’t she know the words to her greatest hits by now?

Following the show, a pretty woman strolled toward a side stage portal. Assuming she was VIP bound—and probably a VIP herself—I latched onto her, hoping the security officer would mistake me as her friend.  

My plan worked. He thought I was her gal pal. “The party is backstage. You two come with me.” (It turned out she was an actress). 

The star-studded gathering was held in a dressing room. I struck up a conversation with Senator Kerry, “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 hobnobbed with Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, James Brolin, and Neal Diamond, among others. Jamie Foxx and I reminisced. He had once been my real estate client. 

I struck up a conversation with Ben Affleck, who was hanging with Ben Stiller. “My friend said she went out with you.”

“No, we just had sex,” Affleck joked. The three of us broke into laughter.

The Kerry campaign raised five million dollars that night and nine and a half million dollars from all three California events. I can tell you 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?

Published in The Simon magazine in 2004.