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Obama's Florida trip includes All-Star NBA fundraiser

February 23, 2012|By Mark K. Matthews | Orlando Sentinel
  • President Obama is given a team jersey from players and coaches of the Dallas Mavericks, who won the NBA championship in 2011, at the White House in January.
President Obama is given a team jersey from players and coaches of the Dallas… (Michael Reynolds / European…)

Reporting from Washington — An All-Star lineup of current and former NBA stars is coming together tonight for an event that won't feature dunks, buzzer beaters or free throws.

Instead, the group — which organizers said includes Magic Johnson, Alonzo Mourning and NBA Commissioner David Stern — will meet with President Obama for a $30,000-a-plate fundraiser at the (actual) home court of Dallas Mavericks guard Vince Carter in his Isleworth mansion.

"We may see the president challenge Vince Carter to a game of H-O-R-S-E," said John Morgan, a Central Florida lawyer and Democratic booster who helped organize the event in Carter's home gym on the eve of the NBA's All-Star weekend. In October, Morgan played host to Obama at his Lake Mary home and netted about $1.1 million with help from Orlando Magic assistant coach (and ex-Knick) Patrick Ewing and Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

Morgan said the dinner would be catered by the restaurant Carter owns in his hometown of Daytona Beach and that it already has $30,000 checks from several NBA stars, including the big three of the Miami Heat: LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

"The players from the Heat have written checks that have been very helpful," said Morgan, who added the trio won't actually attend the fundraiser because of a scheduled game with the Knicks.

Still, their dollars will add to the $3.7 million Floridians already have given to Obama's reelection effort, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — a haul that Obama will add to today with two fundraisers in Miami before he arrives in Orlando shortly after 8 p.m.

From 40 to 70 guests are expected at Carter's home, and organizers hope to raise at least $1.2 million. The first $5,000 of each donation will go to Obama's campaign and the rest will be routed to the Democratic National Committee.

On the menu: chicken caprese roma and a dish dubbed "pasta Vinsanity," which features capellini pasta, portobello mushrooms, kalamata olives and feta cheese.

"For the past six weeks I have not thought of much else. I have had a few sleepless nights," said Michelle Carter-Scott, mother of the longtime NBA star and co-owner of the restaurant.

The event is part of Obama's plan to lock down a state critical to his reelection. His campaign already has 12 offices in the state, including one in Orlando.

His nine-hour visit to Florida includes an "official event" — a speech on the economy at the University of Miami — which means taxpayers will foot the cost of his travel from Washington aboard Air Force One. The jumbo jet costs $181,757 per hour to operate, according to an Air Force estimate given to the National Taxpayers Union.

But after the speech, Obama will spend the rest of his time fundraising, including stops at the Biltmore Hotel and the home of influential attorney Chris Korge.

The itinerary has Republicans crying foul, as Democrats did about similar reelection trips by former President George W. Bush.

"President Obama's taxpayer-funded campaign trip is nothing but another excuse to attend high-dollar fundraisers for his campaign, when he should be focused on creating jobs for the American people," said Matt Connelly, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, in a statement.

"It's clear that the only job President Obama is interested in saving is his own, not the nearly 10% of unemployed Floridians," he said.

One sports historian said it was rare for professional athletes to rally so publicly around a political candidate, as most are at least publicly apolitical.

"I would call it unusual, especially when you have that many high-profile people, and especially when it involves the commissioner of the NBA," said John Hoberman of the University of Texas.

A hoops fundraiser is not a huge leap for Obama. He's a big basketball fan: He installed a basketball court at the White House so he could play pickup games, and he makes public his annual college picks for March Madness. Last fall, he flew to San Diego to watch North Carolina beat Michigan State aboard an aircraft carrier.

Morgan, one of Obama's top campaign-donation bundlers, credited former Miami Heat great Mourning in promoting the event.

"He's been calling players and getting us numbers. He is sort of a senior statesman" to the NBA, Morgan said.

Mourning is a longtime Democratic donor and Obama supporter: In 2010, he hosted a fundraiser for the president in the backyard of his Miami mansion. He also has given the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee about $117,000 since 2004, according to federal election records.

Stern too has been a big Democratic booster, contributing at least $400,000 to Democratic groups or candidates in the last 12 years, records show.

mkmatthews@tribune.com

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