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CAUSE CELEBRE

`Can I talk to you about Hillary?'

Clinton fundraiser Daphna Ziman buttonholes everyone who crosses her path.

February 16, 2007|Tina Daunt | Times Staff Writer

Daphna Ziman has the best seat in the Polo Lounge, and she's not afraid to use it.

From her vantage point at a table-for-two on a recent afternoon, Ziman watches the lunch crowd with interest at the Beverly Hills Hotel's iconic restaurant. She can see everyone who comes through the door, and she has a full view of the sunlit courtyard, where the elite make their way to secluded tables on a tree-shaded terrace.

Today she's got an eye for more than faces -- it's wallets and purses that capture her interest. The 2008 presidential campaign is on and Ziman, a former model who heads her own film and television production company, is one of political Hollywood's top fundraisers for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

It's a battle for every cent and endorsement.

"Hillary Clinton is the right candidate," Ziman explains. "The nation is in deep need for a mother figure who will lead the people out of a violent world and back into caring for the poor and the disabled, mostly caring for our children, our future."

As she talks, she spots a familiar face, a commercial real estate developer. She whispers: "He's worth millions."

She waves and summons him to the table. "Can I talk to you about Hillary?" she asks.

He looks at her as if she's just exited a spaceship.

"I'm a Republican," he says.

A Republican? In Hollywood? Sounds stranger than science fiction.

Ziman is undeterred. His party registration just makes him that much more challenging -- a potential convert.

"I would love for you to meet her ... "

"No. No. I know the Clintons from Aspen. I'm not interested. I'm supporting McCain. Maybe Giuliani ... "

Ziman smiles. She doesn't miss a beat: "So, can I tell you about the charity I started? It's called Children Uniting Nations...."

Laborious process

This is how it goes during political season in Hollywood: There's a core group of avid money raisers, many of them established and respected in the entertainment industry. (Clinton has about a dozen of them, including media mogul Haim Saban and supermarket magnate Ron Burkle.) They have Rolodexes that can help raise millions. In previous years, billionaires could open their checkbooks and give staggering sums to a single candidate. But with new contribution limits -- $2,300 per person -- fundraising has become a more labor-intensive process. (Saban said recently: "Every donor must also become a fundraiser.")

So from now until November of next year, there will be hundreds of conversations among the very rich and the very charming. Ziman, blond and perfectly coiffed, understands this.

Married to real estate executive Richard Ziman, she's been politically active for years. She has her charity, which assists abused and neglected children, and she's raised tens of thousands of dollars for a variety of Democratic candidates. (She was one of Sen. John F. Kerry's strongest Hollywood supporters in '04.)

Ziman is determined to rally support for Clinton, who will be in town next week meeting with backers. (Sen. Barack Obama will be here too, working many of the same people.)

In between bites of her Cobb salad, Ziman continues to survey the Polo Lounge. She spots Cynthia Yorkin, wife of TV producer Bud Yorkin.

"Cynthia!" Ziman calls. "How are you? You're not supporting Obama yet, are you? I want to talk to you about Hillary."

Yorkin smiles. "Call me," she says.

Ziman turns her attention back to the door. She catches her breath. Actress Nicole Kidman has entered the room.

"I must say hello to Nicole," Ziman says. She leaps from her seat and walks over to offer a greeting. Kidman smiles but does not stop to chat. Tall and elegant, she makes her way through the courtyard. Heads turn. People whisper.

Ziman returns to her table.

Next, a middle-aged graying man catches her eye. She smiles warmly. She recognizes him as an entertainment lawyer who is involved with Rock the Vote.

"I want to talk to you about Hillary," she calls.

"I'm with Obama," he says.

"But what about Hillary?"

"I'm supporting Obama," he says, and walks off.

Ziman pulls out a notepad and asks to borrow a pen.

"He was so decisive. He wouldn't even talk about Hillary. Do you think the Rock the Vote liberals are all supporting Obama? I need to find out."

She jots down a few notes.

The crowd is starting to disperse. And Ziman has other things to do. She's planning a large Oscar party at her Beverly Hills home to raise money for her charity and she's organizing a dinner for some of the city's Republicans, hoping to have a dialogue with them about Hillary.

Lunch is over. She puts her notebook back into her Balenciaga bag and packs up.

She heads through the restaurant's dark lobby and then pauses. "I wonder where Nicole is sitting?" she said. "Maybe I should go talk to her again ... "

tina.daunt@latimes.com

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