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91608: Universal City- Hollywood Money And The Road To November's Election

Judy L. Wang |
April 7, 2012 | 5:15 p.m. PDT

Special Project Reporter

This story is part of a Neon Tommy Special Report that follows 2012 campaign money in L.A.  >>>

The famous phrase “All roads lead to Rome” can also be said for Universal City: except it would be, “all freeway exits lead to Universal Studios.”

The city’s most well-known landmark also happens to be the only reason the city really functions. As you walk around, there doesn’t seem to be a reason to explore elsewhere and the further you wander away from the studio, the more nervous you are to get back to CityWalk where everyone else is. The city wouldn’t be on anyone’s radar without the studios.

The same can be said for its role politically.

Universal City donated 91 times more than the average zip code in the 2012 election cycle and the one person that put the city on the map is DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Universal Studios (Photo by Judy Wang)
Universal Studios (Photo by Judy Wang)
Katzenberg is no stranger to lending a monetary hand to Democrats, as his previous donations ranged between $2,000 to $10,000--- all soft money donations to different Democratic candidates. However this year, Katzenberg is one of the few Democrats who has embraced the role of Super PACs in an election campaign. By embrace, we mean at the gentle sum of $2 million to Priorities USA Action which put Universal City on the map as one of the biggest zip code contributors in the nation.

In an interview with USA Today, Katzenberg said he is looking to counter the heavy spending from what he calls “Republican extremists” who almost brought our country into default.

"The stakes are too high for us to simply allow the extremism of a small but well-funded right-wing minority to go unchallenged,” Katzenberg said in the interview.

Katzenberg has been a consistent supporter of the Democratic Party and with his recent donation being his highest to date, it would seem that he is a on serious mission. And as one of many in Hollywood who have made donations to political campaigns, it begs a few questions: What influence does Hollywood money have? And are voters swayed by celebrity endorsements?



According to Rick Hasen, Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine, the answer would be none and no. 

“I tend to think endorsements are not as influential as people think,” said Hasen. “I don’t think the fact that Oprah endorsing the Obama campaign in the first election really probably had much of an impact on the election. I don’t think that people who are undecided are likely to be swayed by what Oprah Winfrey thinks.”

Furthermore, Hasen doesn’t see a distinction between Hollywood money and money from the rest of the world. After all, cash is cash no matter where it’s coming from. The real focus, Hasen said, is what that donation money brings to the donor. 

“People who give a lot of money, spend a lot of money, whether they are Hollywood or anywhere are given preferential access,” said Hasen. “They’re able to attend events, such as dinners where they’re able to meet with leaders of parties…They get more access and a chance to make their change for whatever it is that they’d like in a much more direct way than the rest of us do.” 

This access doesn’t have a connection with the everyday voter and while taglines like “Rock the Vote,” and “Vote or Die!” might stir up the younger crowd, it doesn’t guarantee anything for the 2012 election. 

However, one distinct connection exists between Hollywood and this year’s election: big money. 

“I expect we’re going to have a record setting election in terms of the amount of money that is raised by a candidate and outside groups,” said Hasen.  “If you’re thinking about Hollywood in particular, I expect especially if they’re contributing and spending on the Republican side, there’s going to be a lot of Democratic Hollywood money.”

This is especially important to Democrats in retaining control of the Senate, Hasen noted. While some have been rather hesitatant to jump on the Super Pac wagon the way that Katzenberg has, Hasen said that might change as we get closer and closer to November.

Now, we’ll just have to wait and see if all the roads of Hollywood will lead to a victory for Obama. 


Reach Judy here or follow her on Twitter

Graphic by: Didi Beck




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