[A2k] Wall Street Journal: Movie Mogul's Starring Role in Raising Funds for Obama
thiru at keionline.org
Mon Oct 1 03:20:10 PDT 2012
• Updated September 30, 2012, 9:47 p.m. ET
Movie Mogul's Starring Role in Raising Funds for Obama
By PETER NICHOLAS and ERICA ORDEN
Movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg made what Obama campaign officials saw as an audacious request this spring, and they weren't happy about it.
Mr. Katzenberg was organizing a fundraising dinner at the Los Angeles home of actor George Clooney and insisted that President Barack Obama plan to swing by each of the gathering's 14 tables and spend time chatting up guests who had paid $40,000 a seat, according to people who helped arrange the event.
For one thing, campaign aides said, the president dislikes chitchat. Typically, he breezes into such events, makes his pitch, then leaves. Also, Mr. Obama would be tired after a cross-country trip that included a campaign stop in Seattle. "I'll ask," an aide said, voice quavering, when Mr. Katzenberg's representatives broached the idea.
As Mr. Katzenberg's importance to team Obama has grown, so have perceptions of his access to the White House.
Last winter, for example, Congress took up legislation designed to clamp down on online piracy, which Hollywood sees as an existential threat. The Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, was designed to wall off rogue websites offering free movies and TV shows. The bill pitted Hollywood against Silicon Valley's high-tech firms, which warned it could effectively censor the Internet.
There were also divisions in the White House, said current and former administration officials. Vice President Joe Biden was part of a faction that wanted to broker a compromise. Others opposed to the bill, predicting a backlash from tech-savvy voters who were fast lining up against SOPA.
In January, the White House announced its opposition, effectively scuttling the legislation. As the White House prepared to issue its statement, former Sen. Chris Dodd, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, the industry's lobbying arm, called Mr. Katzenberg "to get more information" about the president's plans, according to a spokesman for Mr. Dodd.
One person close to Mr. Katzenberg described the call differently, saying Mr. Dodd "wanted Jeffrey to talk to the president" and that Mr. Katzenberg declined to intervene. The White House position soured some of Mr. Obama's Hollywood supporters.
The White House "tried to play it both ways,'' said Marge Tabankin, who advises wealthy clients on politics and charitable giving. "And this industry said that, for everything we've done, it would have been nice if they at least had tried to work out a compromise."
Mr. Katzenberg, on the losing side of the issue, sought to soothe hurt feelings and lay the groundwork for a deal more friendly to Hollywood. His office called the White House several days after its decision and urged Mr. Obama to phone other studio chiefs to help reaffirm their support, both personally and financially, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Obama took the advice, these people said.
Mr. Katzenberg is now one of a handful of Hollywood executives working to privately broker a compromise with Silicon Valley. He travels there frequently to meet with people such as Google Inc. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, according to people familiar with the matter. A Google representative wouldn't comment on the matter.
Following the SOPA flap, Mr. Katzenberg made the most of the visit by Mr. Xi, China's presumed next leader. Hollywood's eagerness to do more China business has been hindered by Chinese requirements that foreign movies be sold through a government-run monopoly that lets in only 20 foreign movies per year.
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