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Is Joe Biden Still a Blockbuster in Hollywood?

When Los Angeles voters head to the polls March 5 and again in the November general election, President Biden won’t have to sweat the results here and across the state. Nearly twice as many Californians are registered Democrat as they are Republican. In 2020, 71 percent of L.A. County voters picked Biden.

But Los Angeles remains popular for Democrats for reasons beyond ballot counting — it’s a fountain of campaign cash, much of it spouting from the entertainment industry. Consider that clutch of December fundraisers where co-hosts and attendees included such glossy names as Steven Spielberg, Shonda Rhimes, Jon Hamm and Barbra Streisand. The events may have taken place amid some grumbling over lagging poll numbers and questions about whether the octogenarian commander-in-chief can woo young voters, but ultimately the wallets opened wide. Media reports put the take from the soirees at about $15 million, a hefty part of the $97 million the campaign on Jan. 15 announced it had raised in the fourth quarter.

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DreamWorks founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, who is the only non-politician serving as a Biden presidential campaign co-chair, says that the industry is firmly with the incumbent. “The Hollywood community has known and supported President Biden for more than 40 years,” Katzenberg says via email on Jan. 15 from Iowa, where he was on the ground for the state’s caucuses. “Every election is different. But the stakes this time couldn’t be higher. Our democracy is in peril. The choice is very simple: democracy versus one-man rule.”

According to Eric Paquette, CEO of Meridian Pictures and a longtime fundraiser for Democratic Party power players, there is no question that Hollywood is stepping up to support Biden. “I think that the people who are the main fundraisers, who have a vast network of individuals who can write checks, they’re on board,” Paquette says. “The majority of people that I get the most complaints from have never written a check in their life.”

The Hollywood take was crucial to Biden building momentum after a third quarter in which he raised $71 million nationwide. Campaign officials on Jan. 15 said they closed 2023 with $117 million in cash on hand.

Campaign finance law allows individuals to donate up to $929,600 to the Biden Victory Fund, with the first $6,600 dedicated to the Biden for President committee and split between the primary and general election. The remainder goes to the Democratic National Committee, or is distributed among state Democratic parties.

Even before the writers and actors strikes were settled, some Los Angeles donors were hitting six figures. As reported in disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission, Casey Wasserman gave $929,600. Katzenberg and his wife, Marilyn, both contributed $889,600 to the Biden Victory Fund this year. Seth MacFarlane and Marcy Carsey each surpassed $100,000. Other donors in the first nine months of the year include actor Wendell Pierce ($30,000), Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Tom Rothman ($10,000), Rob Reiner ($13,200) and architect Frank Gehry ($31,000). Fourth-quarter donation details will be available Jan. 31.

Those with before-the-title names are not alone in standing with Biden. Zach Sokoloff, senior vp at Hackman Capital Partners and asset manager of production hubs Television City Studios and Radford Studio Center, notes that plenty of others in the industry feel the same way. “There is a huge cohort of below-the-line and crew who work in the entertainment industry who are unionized and who saw President Biden make history as the first sitting president to join a picket line,” Sokoloff stated, referring to Biden walking with striking United Auto Workers members in September. “I think President Biden’s support is strong top to bottom throughout all the individuals who are connected to the industry here in Los Angeles.”

As the primaries begin, it’s inevitable that grousing will keep up. Some will moan that Biden can’t muster the once-in-a-generation appeal that Barack Obama sparked in Hollywood in 2008. Others, across many industries and voting blocs, wish an alternative had materialized, or that Biden had bowed out to allow someone fresh to step up — next generation names include Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg, and governors J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and California’s Gavin Newsom.

Meanwhile, Trump and others on the GOP side will stoke the age flames. But ultimately it’s electoral politics, and thus comes down to choice. “So what that he’s 81? He’s effective,” counters Paquette. Looking toward the November ballot, he adds, “And the alternative is just not an option.”

A version of this story appeared in the Jan. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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