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White House Correspondents Weekend: Stars to Share Spotlight With Silicon Valley

An eclectic list of stars like Julianna Margulies, Brad Paisley, Jessica Simpson and Lupita Nyong'o and a hefty dose of "Scandal" and "House of Cards" cast members will descend on Washington this weekend for the annual White House Correspondents Assn. dinner.

But the Hollywood-meets-Washington fete is increasingly becoming just as much a showcase for the tech industry and its titans as it hosts among the dozen or so cocktail parties, dinners, brunches, screenings and other fetes surrounding the dinner event itself at the Washington Hilton.

On Friday, Google and Netflix are hosting a party at the United States Institute of Peace, with the stars of Netflix series expected along with YouTube's Kid President.

That same night, StartUp RockOn is hosting 2.0: The New Media Party at the Carnegie Library, an event that promises "the next generation of Hollywood, Tech & Media." The party is sponsored by Event Farm and HyperVocal.

On Thursday, as a kind of kickoff to the weekend, TrackMaven founder Allen Gannett and Layer3TV's Eric Kuhn, along with NPR's Generation Listen, are hosting Bytes & Bylines, a mix of tech and media, on the roof of the Dupont Circle Hotel.

Yahoo News, in addition to hosting a pre-dinner reception with ABC News, is co-hosting a brunch with Tumblr at the Newseum on Sunday, the morning after the dinner. Marissa Mayer and Katie Couric are among the expected guests.

And as they did last year, the team at Buzzfeed is hosting a competing Saturday evening event, joining with Facebook for a fete at the Jack Rose Saloon.

Even the MPAA's event, the Creativity Conference to be held at the Newseum on Friday morning, is co-sponsored by Microsoft, as well as ABC News. Vice President Joseph Biden is among the speakers, along with Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), in the midst of holding hearings on a revision of the Copyright Act.

But as several campaign finance reform advocates told U.S. News, the presence of tech firms is a reflection of the increasing lobbying power of Silicon Valley, particularly Google, which has sponsored events in previous years and at President Obama's first and second inaugurations. Just about every major tech firm has increased its spending in recent years, as a host of issues including privacy, piracy and government spying come to the fore.

To be sure, traditional gatherings are still expected to be packed with a mixture of stars, news media personalities, administration officials and a smattering of cabinet secretaries.

Time and People are hosting their annual early evening cocktail party at the St. Regis Hotel on Friday night.

On Saturday afternoon is the White House Correspondents Garden Brunch, launched more than 20 years ago at the home of producer Tammy Haddad and her husband Ted Greenberg. The event outgrew its home several years ago and now is held at the Beall-Washington House in Georgetown, and as a fundraiser for Dog Tag Bakery and Blue Star Families. The list of co-hosts also has expended to include former AOL CEO Steve Case and his wife Jean.

Other events scheduled for the weekend include MSNBC's afterparty at the National Building Museum and a Bloomberg-Vanity Fair after party at Villa Firenze, the Italian Ambassador's residence.

The sheer number of events has raised concerns that red-carpet glitz has rolled over the purpose of the dinner -- to raise journalism scholarships and honor White House reporters for their work. The association even drew the line last year, threatening to sue a marketer attempting to use its name in connection with a gifting suite.

This year, there is some renewed focus on the association as it marks its centennial, and the spotlight from C-SPAN and cable channels will again be on President Obama's remarks and its featured entertainer, Joel McHale.

Yet even at the event itself, the ground floor of the Washington Hilton has become a scrum of hundreds of evening-attired guests chasing for the most surreal moments. The presence of stars among the guests of media organizations is also a long tradition, but it has escalated during Obama's administration.

There's also little that the association can do to stop the swirl of events surrounding the dinner.

Take Friday evening: In addition to the other parties, the Creative Coalition is having an event on Friday at Supper Suite by STK, Capitol File is hosting a party at the British ambassador's residence and Fusion is hosting an event at Look Restaurant and Lounge. On Sunday morning, an Allbritton Communications brunch is now joined by the Yahoo brunch and another by Thomson Reuters at the top of the Hay-Adams Hotel.

The events also reflect an increasing recognition of D.C. crowds as a way to build word-of-mouth. Robert De Niro will be screening his HBO documentary, "Remembering the Artist, Robert De Niro Sr.," on Friday and will participate in a Q&A with Politico's Mike Allen.

The Buzzfeed event, however, may be indicative of the trend among the new tech entrants sponsoring events: It's got to be less traditional than a cocktail party. Their event, called Bowties & Burgers, promises a DJ, a 4 foot tall Connect Four game and a political fortune teller, along with "a special surprise for the people waiting in line."

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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