Influence at the Oscars


Update: The contribution amounts coming from George Clooney and Kathleen Kennedy have been corrected.

It's Oscars weekend in Hollywood, a place that — when it comes to money and influence — isn't as far from Washington as it appears on a map. In honor of the occasion, Sunlight has decided to take a look at who among this year's Academy Award nominees are playing the political field. The results of our inquiry do absolutely nothing to dispel the notion that the Hollywood hills are a Democratic stronghold.

The envelopes, please.

Three movies from DreamWorks Animation — "War Horse," "The Help" and "Kung Fu Panda 2" — are up for Academy Awards on Sunday but if there were an Oscar for political giving, two principals of the storied studio would have the inside track.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, head of DreamWorks Animation, is a top bundler for President Obama and donor of $4 million in federal and state entities. Notably, he gave half that total in a lump sum to Priorities USA Action, the super PAC supporting Obama.

Steven Spielberg, principal partner of DreamWorks Studios and the producer of "War Horse," is also a longtime donor to Democratic campaigns. He has spent $1.6 million on a variety of state and federal candidates and committees. While he's given his largest donations to the Democratic National Committee, Spielberg has also been generous to individual politicians, including Obama, who got $11,600 from the Hollywood hotshot. Other recipients of Spielberg's largesse include House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid D-Nev., Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., former Gov. Gray Davis, D-Calif., and the Republican who unseated him, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The "Kung Fu Panda" movies are set in China, where DreamWorks is trying to penetrate the market. And while the Obama administration angered the Motion Picture Association of America's President Chris Dodd with its move to stop the Stop Online Piracy Act, it was successful in securing an agreement with China to accept more movies into its domestic market. 

In a statement, Dodd thanked both Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao for their efforts to "fight movie piracy and help protect the jobs of workers in both countries." DreamWorks just announced it is opening a studio in Shanghai, Oriental DreamWorks, with two state-owned media companies. Last year, the Chinese online video site agreed to distribute the Kung Fu Panda movies, according to the Los Angles Times.

Political contributions by other Oscar nominees and their connections:

  • Kathleen Kennedy, who co-produced "War Horse" with Spielberg, has donated $369,000 to Democratic candidates and Democratic-leaning groups including, Obama, the DNC, Planned Parenthood. The Kennedy/ Marshall film company is rumored to be leaving Sony to officially join DreamWorks, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
  • George Clooney, up for best actor for his performance in "The Descendants," has given $178,000 to Democratic candidates and committees including Obama and the DNC.
  • Brad Pitt, also up for best actor, for "Moneyball," made one donation of $100,000 against Calif. Proposition 8, the 2008 effort to ban same-sex marriage.
  • Chris Columbus, co-producer of best picture nominee "The Help," has made $57,500 in donations, including contributions to Obama, the DNC, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
  • Glenn Close, who snagged a best actress nomination for her role in "Albert Nobbs," has donated $47,900. Recipients include Obama, the DNC, 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, 2008 Democratic presidential candidate (and current Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton, as well as other Democratic candidates and woman's political causes.
  • Alexander Payne, producer of best picture nominee "The Descendents," has given a total of $28,000 to Obama, the DNC and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
  • Martin Scorsese, up for best director for "Hugo," has donated to  Obama, the DNC, DSCC, New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, as well as to the Directors Guild of America's political action committee. These donations have totaled $27,600.
  • Scott Rudin producer of best picture nominee "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," donated $18,900 to Democratic presidential candidates.
  • Michael Barnathan, co-producer of best picture nominee "The Help," has donated $10,300 to the DNC and Obama.
  • One of the producers of best picture nominee "Moneyball," Rachael Horovitz has donated $2,700 to Obama committees.
  • Michael De Luca, co-producer of "Moneyball," donated $6,500 to local candidate Kamala Harris.
  • Stephen Tenenbaum co-producer of "Midnight in Paris" donated $1,500 to Bob Kerrey, a onetime Democratic presidential hopeful and former Nebraska senator, in the early 90s.
  • Letty Aronson co-producer of "Midnight in Paris" donated $500 in 1999 to Bill Bradley for President.