George Clooney's $40,000-a-plate dinner for President Obama tonight is expected to scoop up an eye-popping $15 million. The Hollywood fete, to be held at Clooney's Los Angeles digs, will feature celebs like Barbra Streisand, Robert Downey Jr., and Tobey Maquire among the 150 guests, and is co-hosted by Dreamworks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg. But two-thirds of the money raised will be from "just folks"—tens of thousands of Americans who forked over an average of $23 each for a chance to win dinner tickets. "The number of people who wanted to go to Clooney's house was through the roof," a source tells the Wall Street Journal. The pool has already been winnowed down to 50. Background checks are being carried out on the hopefuls, and two winners (who can bring guests) will be announced today.
The event is expected to "help Obama regain some of his cool," GOP strategist Fred Davis tells the Los Angeles Times. But it also threatens to underscore perhaps a bit too pointedly the president's Hollywood ties, just as his campaign is parrying shots that he's more of a showman than an effective leader. Benefits of the event might come down to which stars are backing the president, say some observers. "Clooney is not gonna alienate, like, say, Sean Penn would," notes USC political science professor Steven Ross. "His image is as a moderate, well-spoken, serious man who has done serious work." (Read more George Clooney stories.)