Kamala Harris and Joe Biden.
Michael Finnegan and Maloy Moore, Tribune News Service
Senator Kamala Harris of California drew some of the most powerful players in Hollywood to her recent reception at the Los Angeles home of filmmaker J.J. Abrams of the “Star Wars” franchise. Television producer Shonda Rhimes, actress Elizabeth Banks and music giant Quincy Jones were among the guests enjoying hors d›oeuvres and drinks under a full moon.
Harris, who lives in Los Angeles, has emerged as the entertainment industry›s early favourite in the swelling field of Democrats running for president, according to some of the party›s top Hollywood fundraisers.
“I think she›s really trying to corral this community as her donor base,” said Hannah Linkenhoker, the senior political strategist at ICM Partners and co-founder of the L.A. Women›s Collective donor group. “To some extent, that›s working. She›s definitely had the most events, and the most high-profile.”
More than a dozen of the senator›s White House rivals have traveled to Los Angeles in recent months in a scramble for entertainment industry money, a pillar of Democratic fundraising. Guarded from public view, their gatherings with high-dollar donors in Beverly Hills, Brentwood and the Hollywood Hills can be crucial to keeping their campaigns alive for the early 2020 contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Some of the candidates — Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, to name a few — have worked the circuit of L.A. donors for years in races for lower office. None, however, can match the bonds that Harris forged with Hollywood political players as she ran twice for state attorney general and once for US Senate. Over the last decade, she has collected more than $1.7 million from the entertainment industry, a Los Angeles Times analysis found.
Jane Fonda, Leonardo DiCaprio, Barbra Streisand, Halle Berry, Reese Witherspoon, Ben Affleck, Kerry Washington, Charlize Theron and a long roster of studio executives gave money to Harris in the years before she launched her campaign for president. Her husband, Douglas Emhoff, an attorney at DLA Piper, raised money from fellow entertainment lawyers and other Harris supporters last month at a reception in Los Angeles› Century City section. Appalled by President Donald Trump, many in Hollywood have stepped up their political activities in hopes of bouncing him from office next year. The industry›s opposition to previous Republican presidents was less intense, said Donna Bojarsky, a longtime Democratic political consultant in Los Angeles.
“You almost have to look back on Ronald Reagan quaintly,” she said. “It›s a whole different level, and the danger is at a whole different level. We›re arguing about the existence of climate change? This is just insane.”
Last fall, Democrats trying to oust Republicans in Congress drew packed crowds at Hollywood fundraisers. Television celebrities, including Alyssa Milano and Kaitlin Olson, canvassed and campaigned for candidates in L.A. and Orange County races.
Now, the anti-Trump fervor is yielding money earlier in the election cycle than normal for White House contenders. “This is building upon the energy in the midterms as if donors recognize that was step one, and now we›re on to the main event,” said Andy Spahn, one of the industry›s top fundraisers.
Some donors are giving to multiple candidates, at least for now, but others are waiting to see who emerges as Trump›s most viable challenger. Harris could soon face serious competition in Hollywood from Joe Biden, who is preparing to join the race for the Democratic nomination.
In a sign of his enduring support among donors, the former vice president stopped in Los Angeles in October to raise money for his American Possibilities PAC. Biden picked up $5,000 checks from director Steven Spielberg, Dreamworks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, Paramount Pictures Chief Executive Jim Gianopulos and Sony motion picture Chairman Tom Rothman.
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