Tickets approach $1 million for first Biden Hollywood fundraiser since end of strikes

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Next week’s Hollywood fundraiser for President Biden, his first in-person soiree here since the end of the entertainment-industry strikes dried up the traditional wellspring of campaign money, is expected to draw big-name donors spending as much as nearly $930,000 each in support of the Democratic leader’s bid for reelection.

Biden, First Lady Jill Biden and Rep. Nancy Pelosi will address the gathering of the glitterati whose hosts include directors Steven Spielberg and Rob Reiner, producers Shonda Rhimes and Peter Chernin and former studio chief Jim Gianopulos on the evening of Dec. 8, according to an invitation obtained by The Times.

In addition to Hollywood elites, other luminaries who are leading the effort includes billionaire businessman and unsuccessful Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso, former ambassadors, tech leaders, corporate honchos and prominent attorneys.

“No one’s leaving anything to chance in this election cycle,” said veteran Democratic consultant Sue Burnside. “People were trying to be respectful to the workers and not undermine their efforts to get a living wage. … But now that the strikes have been resolved, they see an opportunity to put some of that studio money to good use getting Democrats elected.”

California and the entertainment industry have been a financial bedrock for both parties, but more so for Democrats, who received nearly two-thirds of the $43.7 million that television, movie and music industry employees donated to presidential campaigns and outside groups in 2020, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data conducted for The Times by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Open Secrets, which tracks electoral finances.

The Hollywood work stoppage hobbled one of Los Angeles’ premier industries and left thousands without work, and had ripple effects that hurt businesses throughout the region, from dry cleaners and florists to restaurants and newspapers. Writers struck for 148 days and actors for 118 days this year over disputes about pay, benefits, streaming revenue and the use of artificial intelligence.

The strikes also had a major effect on political fundraising. Donors in these industries contributed $5.4 million to federal campaigns in the first nine months of 2023, according to Open Secrets’ analysis. Four years prior, in the same time period in a presidential election cycle, they had contributed $24.6 million.

Democrats including Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other party leaders avoided raising money from their longtime Hollywood boosters for multiple reasons. They would have almost certainly had to cross a picket line, anathema to liberal voters. Also the big-dollar donors couldn’t be seen writing large checks during negotiations with the unions.

Next Friday’s event is taking place at an undisclosed location in Los Angeles, part of a multi-day Biden swing in Southern California. It may be reminiscent of the star-studded fundraiser where then-President Obama raised nearly $15 million at a Wolfgang Puck-catered reception at actor George Clooney’s house in 2012.

Donors can contribute up to $929,600 to the Biden Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that metes out contributions to the president’s reelection campaign, the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic parties, according to the invitation.

One bit of political intrigue at the event is Caruso’s role as a co-host. The longtime Republican-turned independent-turned Democrat unsuccessfully ran for Los Angeles mayor last year, losing to Karen Bass.

While wealthy media mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg is not listed as a host of Biden’s fundraiser on the invitation, he is a co-chair of the president’s reelection campaign and deeply involved in his Los Angeles visit as well as his broader effort to win another term in the White House.

Katzenberg spent $2 million supporting Bass in the mayoral race. The animosity between the media mogul and Caruso is palpable — after Caruso lost, Katzenberg was quoted in Vanity Fair bristling at the businessman continuing to give tours of homeless encampments to reporters.

“Caruso, you have $5 billion, why do you keep taking people to Skid Row?” Katzenberg said, according to the magazine. “You just pissed away $104 million on a failed campaign, why don’t you put that toward the homeless on Skid Row?”

So their shared support of Biden is notable.

“Californians know that we if don’t win this election, we may never have another one,” said Sean Clegg, a top advisor to Caruso’s mayoral campaign last year. “Democracy is on the ballot and Californians are coming together, even overcoming some past differences to save the American experiment.”

It also helps Caruso burnish his relatively new Democratic credentials.

“I think this is a smart move on Caruso’s part to show in his political journey, he is landing firmly in the camp of being a Democrat and proving that with how he spends his money is the best way to do it,” said Bill Burton, a Democratic strategist who worked on Bass’ campaign. He also said men uniting in their support of Biden is prompted by the “existential threat” former President Trump poses if he wins the White House next year.

Other hosts of the fundraiser include Bob Tuttle, a Republican who served as then-President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Kingdom; John Emerson, Obama’s ambassador to Germany; James Costas, Obama’s ambassador to Spain and Andorra, and his partner Michael Smith, who redecorated the White House for the Obamas; Wendy Schmidt, the wife of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt; StubHub cofounder Eric Baker; former City National Bank CEO Russell Goldsmith; Hyatt hotel heir Matthew Pritzker; and Bui Simon, 1998’s Miss Universe.

Times staff writer Courtney Subramanian contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

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