February 17th, 2012
05:53 PM ET
Everett, Washington (CNN) – In sports terms, President Obama’s West Coast fund raising blitz was mostly for the skybox and courtside crowd. Events in San Francisco were held at lavish estates with majestic views.
The invite lists were as impressive. Celebrities like George Clooney, Jack Black and Jim Belushi rubbed shoulders with the president.
The tickets to get into these “red carpet” events don’t come cheaply. Some are as high as $35,800 which is more than most Americans make in one year.
It’s how the president fills his re-election coffers and flying west has been lucrative.
Organizing for America California state director Mary Jane Stevenson was more blunt.
"There are people who say California is in the bag, and we are just an ATM. You know what, they are kind of right, " Stevenson said. “California is in the bag for the president and we are a bit of an ATM."
Three days of fundraisers in California and Washington State will raise an estimated $8.5 million dollars for the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
This comes on the heels of a big money raising month. Team Obama announced Friday that in January they raised a combined total of $29.1 million dollars.
But Republicans were criticizing not celebrating . “Averaging a fundraiser every two days it’s clear President Obama’s priority is saving his own job instead of working to create jobs for struggling Americans,” said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski.
On the one hand he assails wealthy fat cats for not paying their fair share and casts himself as a champion of the middle- class.
During Thursday’s more affordable fundraiser at the Nob Hill Masonic Center in San Francisco, where tickets went for around $100, the president touted his policies aimed at lifting the middle-class.
"This is the defining issue of our time, a make-or-break moment for the middle-class American's and all those who are trying to get into it," the president said.
On the other hand, these high cost elections are fueled by deep pocket donors.
" It actually sends a picture that our entire system of money and politics is completely broken," said Craig Holman of the consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen.
According to a USA Today survey, the president outraised Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney in two-thirds of the country. He was ahead of all four Republican hopefuls in 19 states.
While some of his opponents also hold lavish events and tap wealthy donors, the president gets more scrutiny because his trips are partly funded by taxpayers. And on this trip, there were just two official events, one at Master Lock in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the other at Boeing in Everett, Washington.
"It's not an attractive picture to see our president going out and raising funds from the very wealthy and special interest groups," said Holman, especially in this tough economy.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration was abiding by “all the rules” in properly allocating travel costs to the campaign.
“We do it absolutely by the book, in the same manner that President Bush did, President Clinton did.” said Carney.