When the subject of Hollywood and President Barack Obama comes up, most people think of the celebrities who cut videos supporting the leader’s two runs for the White House.
Others might name check movie producer Harvey Weinstein, one of Obama’s most vocal backers.
They all pale in comparison to studio mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks fame, who Mother Jones dubs the Kingmaker of the Democrat party. That hardly describes Katzenberg’s impact on two presidential elections, particularly the 2012 contest.
Katzenberg gave $3.15 million to Democratic super-PACs during the 2012 cycle–almost 30 times more than his total reported giving in 2008. (There’s no telling how much he might have given to other groups that don’t disclose their donors.) He steered millions more to Priorities–his friend and business partner, Steven Spielberg, gave $1 million, for instance. He hosted numerous fundraisers for Obama and raised more for the president than anyone else in California. All told, Katzenberg gave or raised more than $30 million to reelect Obama, helping Hollywood make up for Wall Street’s plummeting financial support of the president.
Of course, all that money means Katzenberg can get a few favors done when the need arises. And when his movie studio wanted to branch out into China, all those donations came in handy.
Obama officials say they respect Katzenberg not only for his fundraising, but also because he has no specific “ask”–no ambassadorship to Switzerland, no regulatory tweak, no nights in the Lincoln Bedroom. Even so, being Hollywood’s liaison to Washington has its perks: Obama takes Katzenberg’s calls, and he and his political adviser, Andy Spahn, visited the White House almost 50 times between them during Obama’s first term. (Not all of Spahn’s visits had to do with Katzenberg.) It has also left him well positioned to advocate for his industry’s and his company’s interests in China’s booming film market.
Hollywood stars like Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis deplore the impact of unfettered cash on the political process. They even made a movie about it–The Campaign.
Will they consider a sequel targeting King Katzenberg? Don’t count on it. Money is only evil when it props up the wrong (read: right) politicians.