Def Fundraising Jam

President to hold four NYC fundraisers, make more than $5 million

Russell Simmons campaigns for Barack Obama / AP
March 1, 2012

President Obama will hold four campaign fundraisers Thursday in New York City, where he is expected to rake in more than $5 million from controversial multimillionaire celebrities for his reelection bid.

After today, Obama will have attended 100 fundraising events since filing for reelection last April, more than double the number of fundraisers George W. Bush had during the same period of his presidency.

By comparison, since April 2011 when the reelection campaign was announced, Obama has held 11 town hall meetings, five press conferences, and two White House meetings with congressional leaders of both parties.

The president’s schedule Thursday includes a swanky gala in Manahattan’s upscale Flatiron District hosted by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, New Age self-help guru Deepak Chopra, and culinary bigwig Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Tickets range from $1,000 for "attendees to as much as $35,800 for "event chairs."

Special guests include musicians The Roots, Ben Folds, Ingrid Michaelson, and comedian Aziz Ansari.

Simmons in particular has a checkered political past. He is a vocal supporter of the controversial Occupy Wall Street movement, the adherents of which contend that ultra-wealthy individuals exert an untoward influence on the federal government and do not pay their fair share in taxes.

Simmons is worth an estimated $340 million.

Simmons made his fortune thanks in large part to two companies he founded—Def Jam Recordings and the Phat Farm clothing empire. He currently owns and operates Rush Communications, a conglomerate of fashion, media, and financial firms. In January 2011, Simmons published "Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All," in which he advises prospective millionaires to meditate, pray and "stay on your hustle."

But for those whose financial success does not match his own, Simmons has argued, "There’s no difference between being broke and being a millionaire."

According to, the self-described "entrepreneur" "from the hood" is the second-richest celebrity supporter of the Occupy movement.

"I'm here in solidarity to all the people who are protesting the money-grab and the fierce class warfare that's been waged on the poor and under-served," Simmons told a crowd of protestors gathered at Zuccotti Park in New York City last year.

Simmons recently exhibited his counter-cultural bona fides in an interview with CNN by defending the actions of Super Bowl performer M.I.A., who flashed her middle finger at the camera during the half-time show.

"It’s a youth culture idea, just the idea of the whole system, to say, you know, young people, that’s what they live for," he said. "So maybe it’s something she’s done in other performances and it was natural."

But Simmons’ massive wealth, which places him firmly in the oft-maligned "1 percent" of super-rich Americans, has been a source of tension with the Occupation.

On at least one occasion, Simmons arrived at an "Occupy" protest in a silver Maybach, a rare luxury automobile that retails for about $500,000.

He is also the founder of UniRush, a financial services company that offers prepaid cards to individuals with poor credit history. When confronted by protesters about the efficacy of the practice, Simmons reportedly replied: "I don’t run shit…I’m ready to pay more taxes."

In 2002, the New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying accused Simmons of failing to register as a lobbyist before meeting with Gov. George Pataki to lobby for more lenient drug laws.

The commission launched a probe into Simmons’ political activity and whether he and his advocacy group, the Coalition for Fairness, violated state laws by failing to register as lobbyists.

The commission’s executive director criticized Simmons for his refusal to cooperate with the investigation. However, a state judge ultimately blocked the probe.

The Phat Farm founder has also been criticized for his vocal advocacy on behalf of the diamond industry and his defense of contentious mining practices in Africa.

Simmons became an outspoken defender of the industry following a trip to Botswana and South Africa with former N.A.A.C.P. executive director Benjamin Chavis. The trip was organized and paid for by the Diamond Information Center, a public relations firm that represents De Beers.

Although liberals do not typically defend the diamond industry, most of Simmons’ political positions are left-wing and characterized by his disdain for conservatives. Simmons once said of Sean Hannity that rapper Snoop Dogg, author of hits such as "Gin and Juice" and "Drop It Like It’s Hot" was "less racist, less sexist, less homophobic, and less gangsta" than the Fox News host.

Thursday’s event will be the second Obama fundraiser Simmons has attended in a month. On Feb. 7, Simmons was spotted at Obama attended a VIP fundraiser hosted by Vogue editor Anna Wintour and actress Scarlett Johansson, among others.

Multimillionaire celebrities across the country have been lining up to raise money for the president’s reelection.

Former NBA all-star Vince Carter recently hosted an Obama fundraiser at his Florida mansion. The event raked in more than $2 million. The president’s travel expenses were covered by American taxpayers.

CBS Atlanta reported Thursday that actor and director Tyler Perry, best known for his roles in films such as "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and "Why Did I Get Married?" will host a $35,800-per-person fundraiser for the president at his Georgia home.