Jeffrey Katzenberg Raises $1 Million for Democrat Seeking to Oust Mitch McConnell

Jeffrey Katzenberg

When Michael Eisner opted to hire Michael Ovitz as Walt Disney Company President in 1994, Jeffrey Katzenberg (then the Walt Disney Studios chief) resigned. He would go on to form DreamWorks SKG alongside Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, which would later split into DreamWorks and DreamWorks Animation. Katzenberg launched a lawsuit against Disney following his exit and settled out of court for a reported $250 million. Today, he's the CEO of DreamWorks Animation.

The DreamWorks Animation CEO went deep into his Rolodex to drum up support for Alison Lundergan Grimes in the key Kentucky senate race.

DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has raised more then $1 million for the campaign of Kentucky’s Democratic secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is seeking to unseat U.S. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, making her election his number one political priority.

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Katzenberg confirmed the sum to The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday following an evening fundraiser in a private dining room at Spago in Beverly Hills. As the event concluded shortly before 8 p.m. and the room emptied out, the studio head and his political adviser, Andy Spahn, lingered at a table chatting with the candidate. As Grimes made her own exit, she paused to thank lingering campaign staff members, who laughingly told her the effort “came from the top down,” a reference to the intense hands-on role Katzenberg took in orchestrating the visit.

Asked for names of donors, Katzenberg simply responded, “Everybody.”

The total was particularly impressive since individual donors can contribute only $5,200 to a candidate for federal office.

One of the Hollywood insiders who sized Grimes up during the whirlwind visit told THR that -- while there are no formal records kept -- the $1 million total is thought to be a record for a single visit by a senatorial candidate raising money in the L.A. entertainment industry.

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A knowledgeable source also told THR that Katzenberg is preparing to renew his strong support for Democratic Super PACs as a way to level the electoral playing field in Kentucky, where Republican independent expenditure committees are expected to spend major cash to secure McConnell’s reelection.

Grimes herself made a strong impression at the luncheon, cocktail event and private meetings she attended during a visit that began Wednesday and wrapped up Thursday night. “I spent some time talking with her,” said one Hollywood supporter. “She’s very smart, very attractive, very poised. She has a good story about her Kentucky roots and her life there. She is very serious. She really wants to win this.

“She has five or six sisters and two grandmas out there campaigning for her. She certainly isn't radical. The reason I was impressed is she has a lot of common sense. You could see her being the representative of Kentucky. She’s very authentic. She's not some New Yorker moving back home to run for the Senate.”

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One longtime observer of Hollywood politics pointed out not only that “Jeffrey worked very hard on making phone calls and writing people on her behalf,” but “the mood” is also right for Grimes' candidacy, given McConnell’s role in frustrating President Barack Obama’s agenda.

“She will be coming back to L.A. for other events,” said a source. “There are lots more people to see in the city. She hasn't done finance or real estate, or the lawyers for that matter.”

Katzenberg’s ability to mobilize this level of support and the prospect of unseating a Senate minority leader through the effort goes a long way toward cementing his status as this era’s Lew Wasserman, Hollywood’s premier political eminence.