- Top Hollywood producer
- Major donor and fundraiser for Democratic political candidates
Born in December 1950 and raised in Manhattan, entertainment mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg enrolled as a student at New York University in 1971 but soon dropped out to work for NYC mayor John Lindsay’s unsuccessful campaign for the 1972 Democratic Party presidential nomination. In 1973 Katzenberg found work as an assistant to independent film producer David Picker. Soon thereafter, Picker introduced Katzenberg to Paramount Pictures chairman Barry Diller, who hired Katzenberg and assigned him first to the company’s marketing department and then to the TV division, where he was tasked with reviving the Star Trek franchise. Over a nine-year period, Katzenberg worked his way nearly to the top of the Paramount corporate hierarchy, becoming president of production under chief operating officer Michael Eisner.
In 1984 Katzenberg left Paramount to become the CEO of Walt Disney Studios, where he was responsible for a string of popular (and lucrative) animated movies. In 1994 he teamed up with film producers Steven Spielberg and David Geffen to found DreamWorks SKG, with each man investing $80 million in the venture. After some early setbacks, Katzenberg was able to replicate his previous success in animated films with the Shrek series.
From 1978 to 2009, Katzenberg donated more than $1.44 million to political candidates – with 95 percent going to Democrats, and the other 5 percent to leftwing special-interest groups. A member of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Katzenberg actively backed Al Gore‘s run for the White House in 2000. In January 2007, he likewise threw his support behind Hillary Clinton‘s newly announced bid to represent the Democrats in the following year’s presidential election.
When Barack Obama in February 2007 entered the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, the filmmaker’s loyalties shifted abruptly away from Mrs. Clinton and toward the Illinois senator. In February 2007 alone, Katzenberg helped raise $1.3 million for Obama’s presidential primary campaign.
In June 2008, Katzenberg hailed candidate Obama as a political figure of historic dimensions. “Obama is the greatest,” he stated. “Nothing this great has happened to us in a long time.” In the first two years of Obama’s presidency, Katzenberg, Spielberg and Geffen became his top national fundraisers.
In 2009 Katzenberg voiced his strong support for wealth redistribution through tax hikes on high earners, contending that the American economy was marred by “an unhealthy concentration of wealth.” “Those days are over,” he added with satisfaction, in a reference to the redistributive plans of the Obama administration.
In April 2011, Katzenberg, Spielberg, and Geffen collaborated to organize a $30,000-per-plate fundraising dinner on behalf of Obama’s 2012 presidential re-election campaign. By then, Katzenberg had established himself as one of Obama’s most prominent fundraising “bundlers” – i.e., ultra-wealthy donors who reach their own legal fundraising limits and then call on their affluent friends to do the same.
Also in early 2011, Katzenberg became one of the first major donors to Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action – a pair of newly formed committees designed to raise money for Democratic candidates. Other early donors to Priorities USA Action included Rob McKay, Ellen Malcolm, and Harold Ickes.
In February 2018, Katzenberg and his wife Marilyn pledged $500,000 to the student gun-control organization “March for Our Lives,” which had been formed in response to a mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida a few days earlier. “Marilyn and I are proud to stand with the brave young leaders from Parkland, Fla., who have taken their pain and grief and turned it into action,” Mr. Katzenberg said in a statement. Other luminaries who likewise pledged $500,000 apiece were Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, and the husband-wife team of George Clooney and his wife Amal.
On November 17, 2020, Katzenberg co-hosted a $15,600 per person fundraiser for the Democrats’ Georgia Senate Victory Fund. The virtual event in support of Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, whose upcoming runoff elections would determine which party would have a majority in the U.S. Senate, reportedly raised $2 million.
In the spring of 2022, Katzenberg spent a great deal of money funding advertisements aimed at boosting Rep. Karen Bass‘s candidacy for mayor of Los Angeles. Bass’ leading opponent at the time was businessman Rick Caruso, a real-estate developer who, by late May, had already spent $30 million on his own advertising campaign and was running neck-to-neck with Bass in the polls. Some of the ads funded by Katzenberg referred to Caruso as a “Republican” — even though Caruso had become an independent in 2011, and a Democrat in early 2022.