UPDATED (keep refreshing for latest): Hollywood’s David Geffen has suddenly become THE campaign issue between two of the Democratic candidates running for president on the heels of last night’s huge Obamamania fundraiser in Beverly Hills. Today, the Clinton Camp told Barack Obama to cut ties and return cash “from its top booster” Geffen. Clinton Communications Director Howard Wolfson issued the following statement today demanding that Obama disavow what Wolfson termed “personal attacks” by Geffen, whom he identified as Obama’s campaign finance chair, against Sen. Clinton in this morning’s Maureen Dowd column in The New York Times. “While Senator Obama was denouncing slash and burn politics yesterday, his campaign’s finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Senator Clinton and her husband. If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money. While Democrats should engage in a vigorous debate on the issues, there is no place in our party or our politics for the kind of personal insults made by Senator Obama’s principal fundraiser.”
But here’s the thing: I’ve just confirmed that the Hillary camp is wrong. Geffen is NOT the Obama campaign’s finance chair (as her communications chair Wolfson claims in his statement) and indeed has no formal role, according to an Obama spokesman who told me the mistake seems deliberate: “They’re trying to gin up a controversy.” Obama’s campaign finance chair is Penny Pritzker (of the wealthy Chicago family who founded the Hyatt hotel chain) who previously served as a member of the finance committee in Obama’s campaign for Illinois’ U.S. Senate. Shortly after I posted my reporting, Geffen issued a statement on this through his longtime political adviser Andy Spahn: “Despite reports to the contrary, I am not the Campaign Finance Chair and have no formal role in the Obama campaign, nor will I, other than to continue to offer my strongest possible personal support for his candidacy. My comments, which were quoted accurately by Maureen Dowd, reflect solely my personal beliefs regarding the Clintons.”
Immediately, the Obama camp fired back on the Geffen issue with this tough statement from spokesperson Robert Gibbs: “We aren’t going to get in the middle of a disagreement between the Clintons and someone who was once one of their biggest supporters. It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln bedroom. It is also ironic that Senator Clinton lavished praise on Monday and is fully willing to accept today the support of South Carolina State Sen. Robert Ford, who said if Barack Obama were to win the nomination, he would drag down the rest of the Democratic Party because ‘he’s black.’”
In response to that Obama statement, Democratic National Committee member Robert Zimmerman, a top Democratic fundraiser and a Hillary supporter, told me today Clinton had indeed stepped away from Ford’s remarks. “When that Clinton supporter made inappropriate comments, her campaign disavowed it and apologized for his words.” Zimmerman, who managed Gore’s and Kerry’s New York campaigns and will be a key Hillary surrogate in the ’08 race, also told me: “I found Geffen’s comments that Hillary and Bill ‘lie’ personal, vulgar and thoroughly inappropriate. I know supporters get emotionally caught up in these contests and say things that are inappropriate. But it’s incumbent upon the candidates to set a higher tone and disavow.” In actuality, my research shows that Ford apologized for his criticism of Obama, and then HRC said she “appreciated” him doing so.
The controversy stretched to CNN’s Situation Room this afternoon where Wolf Blitzer talked about the Hillary/Obama/Geffen harsh words with Democratic campaign vets Donna Brazile (Gore) and James Carville (Clinton). Both politicos seemed to side with Hillary, decried that this had become a campaign issue, and called on Obama to renounce Geffen’s statements. But it wasn’t like Carville was objective here — because Geffen attacked him, too, in the Dowd column: “I’m tired of hearing James Carville on television.” Criticizing the “world” Geffen lives in, Carville looked into the camera and addressed David directly: “I’ll tell you what, Mr. Geffen — you can come take my place on TV, and I’ll take your money.” Closing out the segment, Blitzer commented that the only people pleased by this controversy will be the Republicans.