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This story first appeared in the Feb. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
If one thing largely unites Hollywood’s power women, it’s the belief that sexism denies them salaries equal to those of their male counterparts — and keeps them out of studios’ uppermost executive suites.
That belief, and the resentment it engenders, has fueled ongoing controversy in the entertainment industry and in part energized Hollywood women to become the most consistent financial backers of female political candidates. So why are so many of them still withholding donations from Hillary Clinton at a time when she stands such a strong chance of becoming America’s first woman president?
According to the most recently filed Federal Election Commission reports, only one in four women on THR‘s Power 100 list had given to Clinton as of Sept. 30. None so far has contributed to her closest competitor, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. (Fourth-quarter data is set to be released at the end of January.)
Experienced fundraisers point out this might be because industry donors often wait until late in the cycle to write huge checks. But one major Hollywood female executive and Democratic insider who asked not to be named tells THR that enthusiasm for Clinton is lagging and her campaign “hasn’t been doing a very good job reaching out to power women.”
“A lot of people figure her nomination is pre-ordained,” says the exec. “Might as well wait until the real election.”
That view is widespread in Hollywood despite Sanders’ surge in Iowa, where he and Clinton are close in the polls. Some New Hampshire surveys have Sanders leading.
Democratic insiders point out Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s electorates are among the whitest in America and that Clinton’s solid lead among blacks, Latinos and gays should factor more into later primaries. National polls show a shift to Sanders among younger women.
Some Hollywood power women are reluctant to give Clinton cash for a range of reasons. “They don’t like Benghazi,” says one female dealmaker. “They don’t like the way she’s handled Bill’s infidelities. They don’t like the email scandal. All these things have created a lack of trust.”
Many share some version of the sentiment that Lena Dunham reportedly expressed at a 2015 fundraiser. Though she has campaigned on Clinton’s behalf, Dunham vented about the former first lady at a New York City event hosted by HBO CEO Richard Plepler. According to The New York Times, Dunham was “disturbed by how, in the 1990s, the Clintons and their allies discredited women who said they had had sexual encounters with or been sexually assaulted by former President Bill Clinton.”
Such reservations notwithstanding, “Every woman I know who hasn’t given to her feels guilty about it,” says the industry dealmaker. “We all want a woman to be president — some of us just wish it were someone else.”
Some of those MIA from the Clinton donor list gave strictly to Hillary in 2008, an election year in which it was common for Hollywood to contribute to both Clinton and then-Sen. Barack Obama.
CAA agent Michael Kives, one of Clinton’s top entertainment industry bundlers, sees the lagging donations as untapped potential. He says the candidate has raised more than $112 million already in fundraising across the country. “When you’re the frontrunner, and everyone expects you to win, it’s even harder to raise money,” he says. “So that figure is even more spectacular on a number of levels. And if only one in four of the power women have donated, that’s only more good news that more money can and will be raised.”
Andy Spahn, president of Democratic public affairs consultant Gonring Spahn & Associates, notes that Clinton has made more than half a dozen trips to Los Angeles in the past year. “All were huge successes, indicating the tremendous support she has here,” he says. “I would love to see 100 percent of [THR‘s] list participate between now and November.”
Among her early supporters: Fox Television Group chairman Dana Walden, who donated the maximum of $2,700 to Clinton’s campaign and $5,000 to Ready for Hillary PAC; Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment’s Diane Nelson; 20th Century Fox co-chairman Stacey Snider; YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki; Viacom Kids & Family Group president Cyma Zarghami; actress Elizabeth Banks; Fox Searchlight president of production Claudia Lewis; TriStar Pictures president Hannah Minghella; and Fox Searchlight president Nancy Utley.But the names of some of the town’s most powerful players — including Oprah Winfrey, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and Universal Pictures chair Donna Langley — are not yet listed as donors.
Lara Bergthold, a campaign strategist at RALLY, predicts that more entertainment industry names will show up on Clinton’s next FEC report. But the real surge probably won’t start until late summer. “The primary election contributions are usually made by the die-hard politicos,” she says. “As the campaign heats up, the giving heats up.”
Bergthold believes the “fear factor” of the Republican field will drive donations from the notoriously liberal-leaning Hollywood. She says it is hard to imagine a Republican presidential candidate more likely to ignite anxiety in Hollywood than Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.
“The stakes are so high given the candidates on the other side,” she says. “They’re scary.”
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