Why pick just one? Hollywood donors fund numerous Democrats in bid to beat Trump

Hillary Clinton and Jeffrey Katzenberg
Jeffrey Katzenberg, right, with Hillary Clinton at a 2013 event at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. His endorsement was key to her raising entertainment industry money for the 2016 presidential race. Now he’s donating to 14 candidates while he decides whom to endorse.
(Christopher Polk / Getty Images)

When former DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg agreed to co-host a high-wattage Hollywood fundraiser this week for Joe Biden’s presidential bid, people may have assumed the former vice president was his pick for 2020.

Hollywood’s key fundraiser has donated the maximum allowed, $2,800, to Biden. But he’s given the same to Kamala Harris, and to Pete Buttigieg, and Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet, Beto O’Rourke, Steve Bullock, John Hickenlooper, Julián Castro, Seth Moulton and Jay Inslee, according to campaign finance reports.

Why donate to 14 candidates? Katzenberg “wants to see the process play out,” said Kevin Ryan, a partner at the firm Gonring Spahn and Associates, which advises the Hollywood dealmaker. Katzenberg will support whichever Democrat wins the nomination, Ryan said.


Katzenberg isn’t the only one using this tactic. Hollywood power players are all in with Democrats’ efforts to oust President Trump in 2020, with many donating to the campaigns of at least three contenders. Among those opening their checkbooks early: Rob Reiner, who gave the maximum to Harris, Buttigieg and Biden; producer Stephen Bing, who gave the maximum to Harris, Buttigieg and Marianne Williamson; and actor Bradley Whitford, who gave varying amounts to Booker, Warren, Castro and Buttigieg.

Overall, the entertainment industry has donated more than $2.2 million to Democratic presidential candidates so far this year, according to a Times analysis of filings released this week. During the second quarter, the industry raised more than $1.2 million for the candidates, with a large portion going to Buttigieg, who brought in $402,000. Harris received nearly $280,000, bringing her total raised in the industry to more than $833,000.

Biden, who entered the race in April, collected about $170,000 during the second quarter from entertainment industry donors. A May fundraiser hosted by former HBO executive James Costos brought in more than $750,000 for the former vice president from people working in a variety of industries in Los Angeles.

Costos, who also co-hosted Biden’s Thursday night Hollywood fundraiser, sent out an email last week stating that he and his husband, interior designer Michael Smith, were supporting a number of candidates instead of just one. Costos has given to O’Rourke, Buttigieg, Booker, Klobuchar, Harris and several others — but he is doing the most for Biden.

“We know some people have already picked a candidate, however we have opted to support several, because they each bring a unique voice to the party,” wrote Costos, who was an ambassador to Spain under President Obama.

“At this time, we cannot afford to divide amongst ourselves; there are enough people out there already doing that for us,” he wrote. “Everything we do today to help Democratic presidential candidates get their messages out, brings us closer and closer to regaining leadership in Washington.”


The strategy, particularly from Katzenberg, is notable. He declared support early for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and assured Hillary Clinton three years before the 2016 election that he would endorse her. He rallied people in the industry to get behind Clinton, while opposing an effort by United Talent Agency co-President Jay Sures to get Biden in the race.

Joe Biden
Then-Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the Academy Awards in 2016 in Hollywood.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Biden is spending two days fundraising in the Los Angeles area this week. On Thursday evening, about 75 people sipped wine and ate crudite on a sun-dappled poolside patio at the Bel-Air home of Sony Chairman Tom Rothman. Richard Schiff, who played White House aide Toby Ziegler in the fictional TV series “The West Wing,” was among those who attended the event hosted by major Hollywood dealmakers, studio chiefs and agents.

Biden, wearing a dark blue suit and pale blue tie, acknowledged many familiar faces in the crowd before saying the 2020 election was the most important in all of their lifetimes.

“We’ve never seen an election like this before. No matter how young or old you are, you’ve never voted in an election that is as consequential as this one,” Biden said.

He threaded his half-hour speech with barbs at President Trump.

“Four years of Donald Trump – God willing – will go down as an aberration in American history,” he said, adding that it would take time to mend America’s place on the world stage, its alliances with foreign government and domestic division.

“Eight years of this guy, I believe in my heart, will fundamentally alter the character of the nation we are.”

Buttigieg is also in town this week for five fundraising events. Two other former Obama ambassadors, Nicole Avant and Colleen Bell, are hosting a lunch for the South Bend, Ind., mayor, who surprised many by rising rapidly in the crowded field.

Booker, a senator from New Jersey who has been collecting Hollywood cash since he was the mayor of Newark, is back for an event in Santa Monica on Saturday. Co-hosts include his girlfriend, actress Rosario Dawson, as well as Obama’s ambassador to Argentina, Noah Mamet, and actors Matthew Modine, Sophia Bush and Lea Thompson.

Harris has four events planned over the weekend — including a “fireside chat” Saturday evening at the Los Angeles home of music executive Scooter Braun, who represents Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato and others. John Emerson, who served as Obama’s ambassador to Germany, is hosting an evening gathering Sunday for the senator from California. Emerson said that he and his wife, Kimberly Marteau Emerson, are fully on board for Harris, but that they will get behind whichever candidate ends up facing Trump.

“She’s certainly off to a great start,” Emerson said of Harris. “There’s a lot of interest and enthusiasm out here.”

Advocacy and communications specialist Lara Bergthold said she sometimes hears comments from people in the entertainment industry like, “Kamala is my gal” or “I’m really doubling down for Pete” — but it’s always with a caveat. “If their favorite candidate can’t make it through, people are saying they’ll support whoever gets the nomination,” Bergthold said.

Emerson noted that previous primaries — such as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy versus President Carter in 1980 and Obama versus Clinton in 2008 — sharply divided the Democrats in the entertainment industry. Emerson, who served as an advisor in Bill Clinton’s White House, supported Hillary Clinton. After Obama won the primary, Emerson worked to smooth over the hard feelings on L.A.’s Westside. It was not an easy task, he said.

But this time, Emerson said, “there’s a lot of goodwill.”

The only hard feelings in Hollywood, these days, are mostly directed at Trump.

Here are key dates and events on the the 2020 presidential election calendar, including dates of debates, caucuses, primaries and conventions.

March 4, 2020