Hillary arrives in Hollywood today, to raise more than $2.5 million. Money and power mesh like peanut butter and jelly in Washington, Wall Street and Hollywood. The path toward influence is lined with the casualties or victories of status, wealth, and ego. Two presidential elections ago, Hollywood created its own underdog when it poured backing into the coffers of Barack Obama, shunning Hillary Clinton. But Hollywood loves a good comeback story in politics or on the silver screen. Enter Democratic presidential hopeful, Hillary and Hollywood money, Part II.
On May 7th, three private fundraisers kick off the first of many legs of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 election Hollywood campaign. First, there is a breakfast reception at the Westwood home of Public Affairs consultant, Catherine Unger. Then comes a luncheon at the Pacific Palisades abode of Steven and Dayna Bochco. (Steven Bochco Productions contributed $373,000 to Democrats over the last four campaign cycles.) The main evening event takes place at the Beverly Park estate of Chairman and CEO of Saban Capital Group, Haim Saban, and his wife, Cheryl. The couple and the Saban family foundation are listed in the $10-$25 million bracket of the Clinton Foundation contributors. The crème-de-la-crème of Tinsel town will clank their glasses for their ‘Champion’ of inequality far above the inequality rampaging the City of Angels.
Co-hosting will be an assortment of legacy media heavy hitters including the Sabans, Casey Wasserman, a trustee of the William J. Clinton Foundation, and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Event tickets are $2700, the maximum individual limit for primary period contributions. This would put Hillary Clinton’s May 7th Hollywood haul at about $2.6 million. More important than these initial outlays though, is their promise of solidarity. Hollywood stands ready for Hillary.
Indeed, Hollywood is expected to unite for a chance to spend money on Clinton’s campaign, in contrast to its prior loyalty abscess, which accelerated into cacophonous Barack Obama support early in the 2008 election cycle. The question is – will it spend as much? That answer will depend on the GOP and whether the rest of the Democratic field opens up, as with Senator Bernie Sanders’ April 29th declaration that he would run for president as a Democrat.
The Bigwig: Jeffrey Katzenberg
According to the Washington-based non-partisan, non-profit research group, Center for Responsive Politics, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg reigns supreme over Hollywood glitterati in terms of most consistent and varied monetary support for the Democratic Party and its anointed ones.
Most people think of political contributions in terms of individual or aggregated corporate donations. That’s just the tips of the iceberg. Money flows into Capitol Hill in many forms. These include donating directly to candidates and bundling (or tapping all your rich friends and associates to contribute under your name before handing over a mega check). More ways to fork over dough consist of contributing to political action committees (PACs) or super PACs that do the same thing once removed, and ‘other’ avenues like paying $50K a pop to attend the Inaugural Ball, something stars such as Halle Berry, Sharon Stone, Neil Diamond and Jamie Foxx did for Obama’s 2009 victory gala.
Katzenberg was the top Hollywood bundler for Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign. Last year, shifting gears back to prep for the 2016 election, he co-hosted a fundraiser featuring Hillary Clinton that raised $2.1 million for the Democrats.
Hillary's Money and Social Circles
Hillary has been comfortable in these sorts of circles for decades, even before the days when Barbra Streisand serenaded her husband, former President Bill Clinton during his 1996 re-election bid, ensuring enthusiastic media coverage in the process. Then, A-listers like David Geffen and Steven Spielberg corralled Hollywood’s elite to pay up to $12,500 a piece to convene in an opulent Mediterranean-style manor, netting the Democratic Party around $3.5 million. Geffen also hosted intimate dinners, in which President Clinton and a dozen power-guests, such as Steve Jobs, Steve Tisch, and Lew Wasserman, former MCA studio chairman would mingle.
Hillary’s own fortune pales in comparison to some of these players. On a relative scale, she is more like the 99 percent to the 1 percent bracket of the Hollywood billionaires, but at those echelons, such distinctions get blurred in lieu of power.
Her wealth still places her well into the 1/10th of 1 percent territory relative to the rest of the American population. In 2012, Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, ranked the third richest person in the executive branch, with a net worth of approximately $15.3 million. Her successor, John Kerry sits comfortably in first place with a net worth of $103 million as of 2013. (Obama ranks 8th wealthiest with $4.6 million.)
Hillary Clinton is hoping to surpass the total of Obama’s contribution figures, including from Hollywood. In 2008, Obama and Senator John McCain posted bundlers by ranges, with the top ranges designated "$500,000 or more." Together, 536 elites directed at least $75.75 million to McCain, and 558 directed at least $76.25 million to Obama. Jeffrey Katzenberg topped Obama’s 2008 bundler list. David Geffen from DreamWorks SKG was also in the $500,000 category.
Money flowed more plentifully for Obama’s 2012 re-election bid against Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, in the most expensive presidential campaign in US history. Again, the distinction between the wealthiest and everyone else was pronounced.
The top 100 individual donors to super PACs (plus their spouses) represented 1.0 percent of all individual donors to super PACs, but raised 67 percent of the super PAC (or ‘Outside Group’) money. All told, 769 elites handed $186.5 million to Obama's re-election efforts or the DNC. The TV/Movies/Music industry coughed up $12.1 million, not quite Wall Street’s levels of $22.85 million, but still commendable.
Jeffrey Katzenberg, who led Obama’s bundler group in general, with a total of $2.12 million to him or the Democrats from 1990-2012, was again in the $500,000 bucket, alongside Barry and Wendy Meyer of Warner Brothers, Colleen Bell of Bell-Phillip TV Productions, Mai Lassiter and Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith of Overbrook Entertainment, and John Emerson from Capital Group Companies.
Katzenberg ranked 18th in the 2012 composite list across industries of Top Individuals Funding Outside Spending Groups with $3.15 million. Other Hollywood A-listers on that list included Director Steven Spielberg (who ranks in the $1-$5 million contributors group for the Clinton Foundation with $1.1 million, Actor Morgan Freeman with $1 million, Comedian Bill Maher with $1 million, Haim Saban with $1.16 million, and billionaire Jerold A. Perenchio, CEO of Chartwell Partners with $4.1 million.
By early 2015, DreamWorks Animation announced cuts of 500 employees as part of its “strategic” plan to restructure its feature film business. It's a safe bet that those 500 former employees will not be attending many elite political festivities in Beverly Hills. Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg dropped to 97th of the 100 top individual contributors for 2014, with $793,000. Hillary Clinton may provide grounds for a leap.
Hillary’s Celebrity and Celebrities
If it were up to Twitter and Facebook, Hillary would be running the White House already. She has more Twitter followers and Facebook likes than any Republican candidate that has already announced a bid for the Oval Office, plus Jeb Bush. She scores about 3.46 million Twitter followers and 2.1 million total Facebook likes.
On the GOP side, Ted Cruz tops the social media list with about 844,000 Twitter followers and also about 2.1 million Facebook likes. Rand Paul has 651,000 Twitter followers and 1.9 million Facebook likes. Marco Rubio has 732,000 Twitter followers and 1.1 million Facebook likes. Jeb Bush lags the GOP social media race with just 183,000 Twitter followers and 172,000 Facebook likes.
Aside from Hollywood’s legacy political-donor leaders and established celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, Hillary is attracting a new more youthful demographic to her side. Lena Dunham offered Twitter support, but no funds as of yet. Kimberly Kardashian West donated $15,000 to the DNC last fall, under her company Kimsa Princess, Inc. and may come out publicly to support Hilary Clinton. America Ferrera backed Clinton in 2008 and will again. Olivia Wilde endorsed her. So did Scandal’s Kerry Washington and singer, Ariana Grande.
In 2008, after raising $229.4 million (about one-tenth the amount her camp claims she will raise this time), Clinton left the 2008 presidential race in early June. Of her top dozen corporate donor sources, Wall Street came through for her over Hollywood. JPM Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch all placed above 21st Century Fox at 12th place.
According to a customized analysis for Forbes by the Center for Responsive Politics, only 12 people made both Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s top 50 Hollywood contributors list. And though the majority of those donors gave to both Clinton and Obama, only four of them ranked in both Clinton’s and Obama’s top 20. Those were Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg and Clarence Avant, CEO of Interior Music Corp. It will be Clinton’s hope to raise that crossover rate.
In politics, business and media, bruised egos heal quickly when money is concerned. Big Hollywood players will still back the Democratic candidate they think will win. That’s how the game of money, politics and social status works. The smaller ones will follow.
This piece originally appeared in Forbes on May 4th.