Politics

Danny DeVito, Reese Witherspoon, Jerry Bruckheimer: You might be surprised who Hollywood backs for president

It has all the makings of a box-office blockbuster: marquee stars (Reese Witherspoon, Ben Affleck), an in-demand director (J.J. Abrams) and backing from a studio mogul (Jeffrey Katzenberg).

But this combined star power isn’t coming soon to a theater near you — it’s dominating Hillary Rodham Clinton’s donor list.

Compared with the Clinton campaign megaplex, her competition feels more like a smaller boutique theater: less lavishly star-studded but with some recognizable names. Sen. Bernie Sanders, for example, has the backing of singer Jackson Browne and director Adam McKay. Jeb Bush’s supporters include Pirates of the Caribbean producer Jerry Bruckheimer and sports broadcaster Jim Nantz.

Entertainment donors in California have poured $5.5 million into the 2016 presidential race. Of that, Clinton has collected 9 of every 10 dollars — a total of $5 million as of Sept. 30, which gives her a commanding lead in the race to collect checks from the state’s signature industry.

A Los Angeles Times analysis — which used a computer algorithm and manual reporting to classify donors by sector — encompasses a broad swath of industry players, including high-powered agents, makeup artists, C-list celebrities and screenwriters.

Many candidates can claim a handful of high-profile backers: Bush, for example, has gotten $5,400 from CBS sports commentator Nantz and $2,700 from producer Bruckheimer. Sanders collected $2,700 from McKay, director of the "Anchorman" movies, while Browne gave $1,350.

Sanders’ campaign website has a dedicated "artists for Bernie" page, listing the support of McKay and actor Danny DeVito, who donated $2,700. Others on the list, such as comedian Sarah Silverman, actor Will Ferrell and Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis, have given their endorsement but don’t show up on the donor roll. 

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, has played up his campaign’s grass-roots support, telling HBO’s Bill Maher last week how he eschews the mega-donors associated with "super PACs."

"I know," replied Maher, who in 2012 gave $1 million to a super PAC backing President Obama. "And I think it’s great, because I want to give you money and now I can only give you $5,400," the individual maximum for the primary and general elections.

Still, it’s Clinton’s roster that boasts the most star power. She’s collected maximum personal donations for the primary from recording artists Kanye West and Usher, small-screen stars Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Bryan Cranston, and Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Barbra Streisand.

And she’s also strong among industry movers and shakers, getting $2,700 apiece from Dana Walden, head of Fox Television Group, Patrick Wachsberger, co-chair of Lions Gate’s Motion Picture Group, and HBO's president of programming, Michael Lombardo.

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Of course, it’s no surprise liberal Hollywood would gravitate toward Democratic candidates — particularly Clinton, whose ties to show business were forged decades ago during her husband’s presidency.

Bill Clinton assiduously courted media donors, even as he famously chastised the industry for gratuitous depictions of sex and violence in the mid-1990s.

"Even though he was critical, he was open to the industry, he loved its people, he followed popular culture," said Donna Bojarsky, a Los Angeles-based Democratic consultant.

Though the former secretary of State is seen as less of a schmoozer, she’s kept up the strong relationship, Bojarsky said.

"She’s a dynamic, powerful woman who is deeply intelligent, so she had no problem in maintaining the affection and the support even though she does not famously stay up until 1 a.m. to chat with people," Bojarsky said.

Clinton, leading in fundraising among Democrats with nearly $98 million, is outraising rivals Sanders and Martin O'Malley both overall and in the entertainment industry. Sanders, a Vermont senator with about $42 million overall, has raised only $134,000 from Hollywood and O'Malley, the former governor of Maryland, nets just $3.6 million total and $37,000 from the industry.

On the GOP side, Bush leads the pack with around $165,000 from the industry. Coming in second is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who raised nearly $90,000.

Clinton's haul was boosted by six- and seven-figure donations directly to Priorities USA, an independent group supporting Clinton that can accept unlimited donations. Hollywood power brokers including Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg and Haim Saban have given $1 million apiece to the group, while Abrams, the director of the upcoming "Star Wars" revival, kicked in $500,000.

SEE the millionaires bankrolling the 2016 race >>

Some media givers hedged their bets, giving to multiple candidates. NBC Universal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer, for example, gave $2,700 to both Clinton and Christie. Media mogul David Geffen has given to Clinton and Sanders, while DeVito backed Sanders and O’Malley.

DeVito has name-checked O’Malley and Sanders on Twitter, channeling "Star Wars" in July: "Bernie Sanders ... you're our only hope Obi-Wan Kenobi."

But Andy Spahn, whose political consulting firm Gonring, Spahn & Associates advises Katzenberg and Spielberg, expressed no reservations in going all in with Clinton.

"Hillary Clinton has long term and deep friendships in the entertainment community.… We fully expect her to be our nominee," Spahn said.

Staff writers Amy Kaufman and Rebecca Keegan contributed to this report.

Follow @melmason for more on California government and politics.

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