Hollywood loyalty strong for Obama
President Obama may be taking knocks from the right and the left, but when it comes to raising money, Hollywood is showing few signs of abandoning its loyalty.
By far the largest donor so far is Jeffrey Katzenberg, who not only is a bundler for Obama’s re-election campaign but also has contributed $2 million to Priorities USA Action, a so-called “super PAC” set up by two former administration officials to support Democratic prospects next year — first and foremost being the White House.
Such super PACs operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign, and can collect unlimited sums from individual donors. Katzenberg’s was the largest single donation they collected in the first half of the year, and other donors included J.J. Abrams and his wife Kathleen McGrath, who each chipped in $50,000. Abrams and McGrath also gave $37,500 each to another Democratic-leaning PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, while producer Steve Bing gave $150,000 to American Bridge 21st Century and $250,000 to another org, Majority PAC.
Katzenberg and his political consultant, Andy Spahn, are also courting other donors to contribute to Priorities USA, driven by the emergence during the mid-term elections of a number of independent expenditure groups on the right, including American Crossroads, which is backed by Karl Rove.
“Every moment we have watched Republican extremists inch our nation closer to the catastrophe of default, Americans have felt the impact of the last election cycle and the success of Karl Rove and the Koch brothers,” Katzenberg said in a statement. “The stakes are too high for us simply to allow the extremism of a small but well-funded right wing minority to go unchallenged.”
On Monday, however, there was no shortage of progressives expressing unhappiness at the debt deal that the White House has negotiated with Republicans, primarily because it is composed of all cuts and (so far) no revenue increases. But it the past is any guide, the deal will not have a major effect on Obama’s ability to raise money for re-election.
Supporters on the left chided Obama in December for agreeing to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich and in April for agreeing to make cuts in spending that averted a government shutdown. Yet in the first half of the year, Obama’s campaign far outpaced its Republican rivals in fund-raising, including a significant chunk of money coming from Hollywood, according to preliminary totals from the Center for Responsive Politics. Their figures showed a 68% to 32% split in showbiz money going to Democrats vs. Republicans, or $3.6 million to $1.7 million.
Unlike “super PACs,” the campaign is limited to collecting a maximum of $5,000 per person, which puts extra pressure on lining up a network of fund-raisers to tap their base of contacts to write checks. Donors to Obama’s campaign included George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Garner and Will Ferrell, and a list of bundlers that also include Spahn, John Emerson, Ken Solomon, Noah Mamet, Chad Griffin, Michael Lynton, Wendy Wanderman, Clarence Avant and Ari Emanuel.
The next big event for Obama will be Wednesday, when Jennifer Hudson and Herbie Hancock are among the entertainers expected at a gala celebration and fundraiser in Chicago marking the president’s 50th birthday, which is Thursday.
This is not to say that Republicans will be shut out of Hollywood support, as John McCain and other candidates held multiple fund-raisers in the last cycle that drew celebrity and industry support. But compared to the 2008 race, donors have been waiting it out to see how the field shapes up, with a contingent hopeful that Sarah Palin will enter the race.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Mitt Romney has so far drawn the most Hollywood support of all GOP candidates. He courted Los Angeles donors during a visit last month, and counts among his industry supporters Harry Sloan, the CEO of Global Eagle Acquisition Corp.
Sloan, who raised money for McCain in the last cycle, said he was drawn to the former Massachusetts governor in part because of the way he handled the 2008 primaries, in which he threw his support behind McCain after dropping out of the race. “I thought he showed a lot of class in that scenario,” Sloan said.
Although Hollywood support for Republican candidates has not been a “growth business,” as Sloan quipped, he believes Romney’s business credentials could hold appeal, especially with the economy as the top issue.
“This is an election where social issues aren’t on people’s minds,” Sloan said. “Getting those a little bit off the table and focused on the economy works in Mitt’s favor.”
He added, “The people I know generally are not looking to cast this race as a negative toward Obama. This issue isn’t necessarily what is wrong with Obama, but could a businessman like Romney do a better job? I think he could.”
Also expected to tap Hollywood support is Jon Huntsman, who has the backing of producer Craig Haffner, who has been active in GOP causes.
Social conservatives aren’t completely ignoring the business either, even if many Hollywood Republicans tend to take a more libertarian approach to social issues like gay rights and abortion. Michele Bachmann spoke to the conservative industry org Friends of Abe a couple months ago and, although their events are not fund-raisers, it could help lay the groundwork for courting individual contributions. As of June 30, her donors include actor-writer Ben Stein, who gave $500.