Obama & Katzenberg: Washington’s New Power Couple

Jeffrey Katzenberg, President Obama / AP
• October 1, 2012 1:50 pm


DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has become arguably President Barack Obama’s strongest political ally. Katzenberg is Obama’s informal liaison to Hollywood, a relationship critical to the president’s reelection after losing significant support from Wall Street, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Katzenberg's fundraising prowess has earned him access and a role as the informal liaison between Hollywood and the White House, as the industry continues seeking government help against online piracy—the theft and resale of movies, music and TV shows over the Internet.

White House visitor logs show about two dozen entries for Mr. Katzenberg's political consultant, Andy Spahn, while Mr. Obama has been president, although it wasn't clear how many were on behalf of Mr. Katzenberg or other clients. The logs show Mr. Spahn had six meetings with Mr. Obama's former political director, Patrick Gaspard; three with former top adviser David Axelrod, and two with William Daley, then White House chief of staff.

Katzenberg has become Obama’s most important fundraiser, collecting more than $6.6 million for Obama since 2007 and contributing at least $2 million to Obama’s Super PAC Priorities USA. The Wall Street Journal notes that Katzenberg has also benefited from the relationship, leveraging a seat at a State Department lunch with China’s Vice President Xi Jinping.

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.

Five days after the February State Department lunch in Mr. Xi's honor that Mr. Katzenberg also attended, Mr. Xi appeared at an economic conference in Los Angeles followed by a lunch attended by Messrs. Biden and Katzenberg. There, Mr. Katzenberg announced his company's expansion into China, unveiling a deal to set up Oriental DreamWorks, a $350 million production studio in Shanghai in a joint venture formed with local companies and investors after about a year of negotiations.

That evening, Chinese and U.S. officials announced a deal that would make it easier and more profitable for Hollywood studios to show their films in China, a development that Mr. Biden said would "significantly increase" access for U.S.-made films. Mr. Katzenberg's Shanghai company will be working through a local venture, which means it can circumvent the quota.

However, the Wall Street Journal fails to mention that Katzenberg’s deal with China has become the subject of an SEC investigation into possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Katzenberg’s relationship with the White House has become so strong that during debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Chris Dodd, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, called Katzenberg to learn more about Obama’s plans. Katzenberg has since been a key figure in negotiations with Silicon Valley to broker a compromise over SOPA.