Million-Dollar Donors
3:42 pm
Fri May 11, 2012

Head Of Shrek's Studio Puts Millions Behind Obama

Originally published on Fri May 11, 2012 6:52 pm

Some two dozen Americans have given $1 million or more to superPACs in the 2012 presidential campaign. The vast majority of them have been Republicans, but one movie mogul has chipped in $2 million to help out the superPAC supporting President Obama.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, the head of DreamWorks Animation studios, was also the co-host of Obama's sellout event Thursday night at the home of actor George Clooney. Katzenberg told the crowd the event raised nearly $15 million, which would make it the most profitable presidential fundraiser ever.

"Once again the entertainment industry has stepped forward in a very big way," Katzenberg said, according to The New York Times, and mentioned presidents John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton as others who enjoyed Hollywood largesse.

Katzenberg is well known in Hollywood circles. If you haven't heard of him, you've probably heard of his studio's blockbuster properties, like Shrek and Kung Fu Panda.

Katzenberg made his millions in movies, but his first career was politics. In the 1960s, he worked on John Lindsay's mayoral campaign in his native New York City. Katzenberg was in charge of campaign events.

He was the advance man — or perhaps the advance teen. He was only 19 at the time, and the campaign staff called him "Squirt."

"Because he's little, and he was a kid. He was a punk," says writer and author Steven Brill, who also worked on Lindsay's campaign as a teenager. "Jeff has an unbelievable work ethic. Everything always got done, everything always got done on time or ahead of time, and he was just always working."

Many on the staff went on to long political careers, including speechwriter Bob Shrum and Sandy Berger, President Clinton's national security adviser.

But Katzenberg said he didn't see much of a future in it for himself. He told Charlie Rose in a 2010 interview he had topped out: "For my age, there really wasn't going to be a new challenge in politics. And so I sought out ... a new career."

That new career was movies. Katzenberg took his organizational skills to work in some of Hollywood's biggest studios: United Artists, Paramount, Disney and ultimately DreamWorks, where he is CEO. Along the way, he and his wife have donated millions to political and charitable causes.

An Elite Donor

Katzenberg was honored for his philanthropic work at a movie industry convention last month in Las Vegas. Actress Cameron Diaz heaped on the praise.

"He is persistent not only about things relating to work, but he is also persistent about things related to worth," she said.

Katzenberg likes to talk about his charitable work. He doesn't like to talk about his politics. He turned down repeated requests for an interview.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he has given more than $3.5 million since 1979. In the 2008 campaign cycle, he was the second highest individual donor, always giving to Democrats. His $2 million check to the Priorities USA Action superPAC last year put him in the top 10 donor list this cycle — an elite group of U.S. multimillionaires and billionaires.

Getting Access

Marge Tabankin, a Hollywood activist and fundraiser who does not work with Katzenberg, says the DreamWorks CEO wouldn't be a good businessman if he didn't play in high-stakes politics.

"But you don't need to work at the level of Jeffrey Katzenberg's energy and commitment to these causes and issues, unless you really believe in them," she says. "It's beyond what a businessperson does."

Earlier this year, Katzenberg the businessman got some quality face time with one of China's top leaders, who was in Los Angeles with Vice President Joe Biden. Katzenberg and other Hollywood studio heads have been lobbying for better access to China's huge movie market.

Just before Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping left L.A., the White House announced China would allow 14 more foreign films into the country each year. That's as long as the movies are IMAX or 3-D — something Katzenberg's DreamWorks makes plenty of.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Last night, President Obama hobnobbed with a glamorous Hollywood crowd at a fundraiser at George Clooney's house. The president brought in big money, a reported $15 million, which would make last night one of the most profitable presidential fundraisers ever. We're going to here now about a prominent donor who was there - movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, a co-host of the party, has already chipped in $2 million for the superPAC that support the president.

NPR's Carrie Kahn reports tells us more about Katzenberg as part of our series Million Dollar Donors.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Jeffrey Katzenberg is well-known in Hollywood circles. But if you haven't heard of him you've certainly heard this name.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SHREK")

KAHN: Katzenberg heads DreamWorks Animation studios, known for its blockbusters "Shrek" and this martial arts mastering bear.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "KUNG FU PANDA")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Go ahead Panda, show us what you can do.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: Okay. Yeah, I mean, I just ate, so I'm still digesting, so my kung fu might not be as good as later on.

KAHN: Katzenberg made his millions in movies, but his first career was politics. It was the 1960s, he was a teenager in his native New York City and he worked on John Lindsay's mayoral campaign. Katzenberg was in charge of campaign events. He was the advance man or perhaps the advance teen - he was only 19 and the campaign staff called him Squirt.

STEVEN BRILL: Because he's little and he was a kid, he was a punk.

KAHN: Writer and author Steven Brill was also a teenager working in the Lindsay campaign.

BRILL: Jeff has an unbelievable work ethic. Everything always got done. Everything always got done on time or ahead of time, and he was just always working.

KAHN: Many on the staff went on to long political careers, including speech writer Bob Shrum and former President Clinton's National Security Advisor Sandy Berger. But Katzenberg said he didn't see much of a future in it for himself. He told Charlie Rose in a 2010 interview he had topped out.

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: It very quickly came to a place where for my age there really wasn't going to be a new challenge in politics. And so, I sought out to find a new career.

KAHN: That new career was movies. Katzenberg took his organizational skills to work in some of Hollywood's biggest studios - United Artists, Paramount, Disney and ultimately DreamWorks, where he is CEO. Along the way, he and his wife have donated millions to politics and charities. He was honored last month in Las Vegas at a movie industry convention for his philanthropic work.

Actress Cameron Diaz heaped on the praise.

CAMERON DIAZ: He is persistent not only about things relating to work but he is also persistent about things related to worth.

KAHN: Katzenberg likes to talk about his charitable work. He doesn't like to talk about his politics. He turned down repeated requests for an interview.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he's given more than $3.5 million since 1979. In the 2008 campaign cycle he was the second highest individual donor, always giving to Democrats. His $2 million check to the Priorities USA Action superPAC last year put him in the top 10 donor list this cycle; an elite group of U.S. multi-millionaires and billionaires.

Marge Tabankin, a Hollywood activist and fundraiser, who doesn't work with Katzenberg, says the DreamWorks CEO wouldn't be a good businessman if he didn't play in high stakes politics.

MARGE TABANKIN: But you don't need to work at the level of Jeffrey Katzenberg energy and commitment to these causes and issues, unless you really believe in them. It's beyond what a business person does.

KAHN: Earlier this year, Katzenberg, the businessman, got some quality face time with one of China's top leaders, who was in Los Angeles with Vice President Joe Biden. Katzenberg and other Hollywood studio heads have been lobbying for better access to China's huge movie market.

Just before Chinese VP Xi Jinping left L.A., the White House announced China would allow 14 more foreign films into the country each year. That's as long as the movies are IMAX or 3D, something Katzenberg's DreamWorks makes plenty of.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

BLOCK: And you can find more stories from our series Million Dollar Donors, about the people who have made record donations in the 2012 campaign. It's at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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