For all of the talk of how uninterested Los Angeles residents are in the race for mayor — the election is May 21, by the way — at least on the surface level, the entertainment industry has taken a big role in bankrolling and boosting their candidates of choice.
With just two weeks to go, City Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel are still courting donors and devoting time to raising money in a campaign that has been marked by a spurt of harsh, 30-second attack ads and an infusion of independent money.
Greuel appeared at the House of Blues on Monday night for a fundraising event co-chaired by Live Nation’s Michael Rapino and Magic Johnson, raising more than $200,000, according to one of the event’s organizers. On Saturday, Garcetti is scheduled at the Hollywood home of his finance chair, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Eric Paquette, and his wife, Jessica Postigo, with tickets starting at $250 per person.
But the biggest contributions are being pursued not by the campaigns, but independent expenditure committees that support one or the other candidate and can collect unlimited contributions from individuals.
According to records filed with the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg each gave $50,000 in April to Working Californians, an independent expenditure committee supporting Greuel, a former DreamWorks executive. That matches contributions that they each gave, along with David Geffen, to the independent committee in January, and adds to a list of industry figures such as J.J. Abrams, Norman Lear and Jack Black who have contributed to the org. Spielberg’s wife, Kate Capshaw, also gave $50,000 to the committee earlier this week, according to city records.
The DreamWorks’ trio’s investment in the race, and even more so the contributions from the union that represents Department of Water & Power employees, helped spur supporters of Garcetti to form their own independent committee, called Lots of People Who Support Eric Garcetti. Among them is Rick Jacobs, founder of the progressive org the Courage Campaign, who helped form the committee in February. Even though he has been critical of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates on independent spending by individuals and corporations, he has said they did not want to “unilaterally disarm” in the face of huge sums being spent on behalf of Garcetti’s opponent.
“I certainly wish there wasn’t so much money in politics,” Jacobs said. “But two weeks before the primary, what we saw were DWP union bosses putting up so much money for Wendy, and Eric didn’t have any on his side.”
Recent contributors to the Garcetti independent committee include Michael Ovitz, who gave $10,000, and Michael Eisner, who gave $25,000, along with Jimmy Kimmel and Steve Tisch.
The direct and independent money flowing to the campaign has helped make showbiz a bigger player than perhaps it has been in the past. According to a Los Angeles Times analysis of contributions, arts and entertainment donors have given $1.1 million to support Garcetti, while Greuel is not too far behind with $967,290. In fact, entertainment industry sources represent Garcetti’s largest base of contributors, and the second-largest for Greuel, after union support.
The industry’s focus on the race, suggested political consultant Donna Bojarsky, may be because Greuel once worked as a government relations executive for DreamWorks. Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen endorsed her in fall 2011, and they have encouraged other donors to step up and contribute. Bojarsky said she suspected that the level of industry involvement in the mayoral election is greater than in recent cycles, although it is not an “overwhelming” difference, and still a contrast compared to the engagement in a presidential election or even Senate and congressional races.
Garcetti, meanwhile, represents the Hollywood area, with a heavy concentration of the industry’s creative class. He has been on a whirlwind of fundraising over the past 18 months, packing sometimes two or three events into a single evening.
“What you have this time is a lot more people participating on the independent expenditure side,” said Jacobs, who added that industry donors he has approached “say they have gotten to know Eric and they have seen him in action and they view him as a far superior candidate.” The Garcetti independent committee has spent on radio spots and plans significant investment on get-out-the-vote efforts, he said.
Greuel’s supporters, meanwhile, have emphasized her credentials and her endorsement from former President Clinton, who was featured in a Greuel campaign ad unveiled last week in which he talked at a campaign appearance of how “she gets thing done.” Working Californians also released a spot, with similar footage from the same event, featuring the former president.
While Garcetti has held events focused on runaway production, and Greuel has addressed the issue, it has in no way dominated the race. Given the Hollywood interest, that may be a bit ironic, but with the candidates so similar on so many issues, the waning weeks of the campaign seems poised for a more negative tone of focus on big labor influence and runaway city budgets. It may not be the most inspirational ending, but for many a showbiz donor, the end result is what counts.