Jeffrey Katzenberg's Secret Call to Hillary Clinton: Hollywood's 2016 Support Assured
Norman Lear, Irving Azoff and more industry supporters tell THR they're lining up behind the former secretary of state and first lady. Says Katzenberg, "Four years of seasoning has made her the best-qualified candidate."
This story first appeared in the Nov. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Several months ago, Jeffrey Katzenberg reached out to Hillary Clinton to assure her that if she runs for president in 2016, he will support her.
Katzenberg is one of Hollywood's premier political kingmakers and one of the Democratic Party's top national fundraisers, so the call had to be a welcome one. For Clinton, who failed to secure his support for her unsuccessful run at the Democratic nomination in 2008, it also was crucial.
Eight years ago, the bitter struggle between Clinton loyalists and Barack Obama disciples riveted Hollywood. It divided families, neighbors, business partners and friends. Nicole Avant, later President Obama's ambassador to the Bahamas, split with her father, music executive Clarence; her brother
Alex; and her godfather, Quincy Jones, all of whom went with Clinton (as did her future husband, Netflix's Ted Sarandos). Next-door neighbors Irena and Mike Medavoy (Obama) and Haim and Cheryl Saban (Clinton) found themselves on opposite sides of the fence. Clinton supporter Rob Reiner broke with his "second father," Norman Lear, an early Obama fan.
Even the DreamWorks troika split apart, with David Geffen and Katzenberg — a once-close supporter of Bill and Hillary Clinton — siding with Obama, and Steven Spielberg straddling the fence, raising money for both.
This time, of course, is different. For most Democrats (and not just in Hollywood), Hillary 2016 is the only viable prospect in an increasingly contentious political climate where both parties likely benefit from the strongest brand name it can put forth. And Clinton, who has not yet announced whether she will run in 2016, will need Hollywood's deep pockets to help her amass the kind of war chest necessary to survive the Republican Party onslaught, where names from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are being floated as contenders.
In other words, Hollywood and Hillary need each other.
Katzenberg already is conveying the message both publicly and privately that he's committed to her. "She did an amazing job as secretary of state," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "She has really shown herself to be a great statesman. The four years of seasoning has really made her the best-qualified candidate out there today, and I'm happy to support her."
Katzenberg, according to a source close to him, was "favorably impressed" by Clinton during her phone call with him. As one of the biggest financial backers of the super PAC Priorities USA Action, which raised a war chest of $79 million and supported Obama in 2012, the DreamWorks Animation CEO is crucial not only for his money but also for his ability to mobilize others.
"The center of power in the Democratic Party in terms of money really has moved to Katzenberg," says one top national Democratic strategist. "The most important person you should get is Jeffrey. He should be her No. 1 priority."
A close No. 2? Geffen. His brutal 2007 assessment of the Clintons to Maureen Dowd in The New York Times now is infamous; in Dowd's column, he called Hillary "incredibly polarizing" and cited the "ease" with which they lie. Fast-forward, however, to July, when the now-reclusive mogul told Fortune that he would "absolutely" support Clinton for president. (Geffen did not respond to THR's request for further comment.)
Top music manager Irving Azoff (a self-described "Hillary loyalist from the start") sees a Hollywood pragmatism at work. "A lot of people in Hollywood are not 100 percent thrilled with Obama and think we need a more centrist Democrat," he says. "The Clinton brand of the Democratic Party has been the most successful in what? Fifty years? Why wouldn't people return to that?"
And they are. In droves. Clues to the will-she-or-won't-she question might begin to be revealed Oct. 30, when Hillary is scheduled to attend a luncheon fundraiser at billionaire Haim Saban's Beverly Hills home for Virginia gubernatorial candidate and longtime Clinton loyalist Terry McAuliffe. Tickets to the event cost $15,000 a person or $25,000 a couple. Later that evening, Clinton is expected to headline a gala at the Beverly Wilshire hotel for Oceana, a key cause for Ted Danson, a longtime supporter.
She'll be back in early November to be honored by the Mexican American Leadership Initiative at a USC gathering. Meanwhile, on Nov. 11 in New York, Clinton will be honored by Malaria No More, a group co-founded by media mogul and longtime Clinton supporter Peter Chernin.
For now, the town's Democratic fundraisers are not taking meetings with any other presidential hopeful as they wait for Clinton's decision, says UTA managing director Jay Sures, another early Obama supporter. "Hollywood in general likes to place their money on the winner," says Sures, "and when there is a clear-cut leader, people will think twice about making donations to candidates they don't think have a shot."
And in this reconciliation, both sides potentially will end up winning.
In 2012, Hollywood donated $6.5 million directly to Obama's re-election campaign, plus millions more to Democratic Party committees and super PACs. "There's going to be so much money amassed against her, she's going to have to take the funds wherever she can get them," says longtime Clinton friend and Designing Women producer Harry Thomason. That's inescapable, he adds, even though getting cash from the entertainment industry sometimes can be a mixed blessing. In Clinton's case, opponents could actually exploit the attacks of those who had previously turned on her — notably Geffen. "It's sort of a two-for-one," Thomason says. "You get to punish the candidate and you get to punish Hollywood."
Clinton's resurgent influence recently was seen when Academy Award-winning documentary director Charles Ferguson dropped plans for a Hillary Clinton film after her friends and associates made it clear they would never speak to him because the Clintons didn't want them to. A planned NBC miniseries was canceled after protests from the GOP, though it is very likely the Clintons opposed it, too, for the possible salacious content.
To put it plainly, the romance is back on.