Latest Column: Dems to Show Biz Donors: Step Up to Support SuperPACs

Weekly_johnson_06Speaking to reporters gathered at the Television Critics Assn. press tour recently, David Geffen was asked about big money in politics: “I think it’s awful and damaging to the country,” he said.

Clearly, Sheldon Adelson he is not. Geffen and a host of other wealthy progressives across the country have no plans to donate to SuperPACs, the ostensibly independent spending committees that have already altered the contours of this presidential race.

On the right, groups seeking to defeat President Obama are soaking up as much as eight-figure pledges that take full advantage of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which permits advocacy ads from outside groups at all stages of a campaign. On the left, there’s still consternation over a system they abhor.

Showbiz also is one of the few real industry bases of wealthy liberals, something Bill Maher often points out when talking about the $1 million he donated to the pro-Obama SuperPAC Priorities USA Action, in part to trigger copycat giving. Figures like Steven Spielberg, Haim Saban, Chelsea Handler, Morgan Freeman and J.J. Abrams also have given to the SuperPAC, and Jeffrey Katzenberg gave $2 million to help get the org launched last year.

Hollywood money is going heavily to Obama, with industry concerns taking a back seat an array of big-picture issues, from the environment to same-sex marriage to healthcare reform. For donors of all levels, support often is based less on inspiration than on fear that their pet causes will find little traction if Mitt Romney wins the White House, Republicans control Congress, and more conservative figures are appointed to the Supreme Court.

What has Democrats particularly frightened is that support from sectors such as showbiz won’t be enough, and that by the time the fall campaign rolls around, outside spending will be so great that they will be badly outgunned when it comes to messaging on the airwaves.

But the reasons Democrats haven’t been stepping up to the plate aren’t as simple as too many donors standing on principle.

There’s personality: Some givers have grumbled for years that Obama hasn’t forged many personal bonds with the top echelons of the party’s monied class, at least compared with Bill Clinton, and that he shows a cool and even mystifying detachment that finds him in and out of town in a fund-raising flurry.

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