Hollywood has long been ground zero for Democratic presidential campaign fundraising.
While a typical Southern California fundraiser can fetch anywhere between $1 million and $4 million, attaching an A-list name often brings in a boatload more. For example, George Clooney famously raised a whopping $15 million for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign in just one night.
In recent years, Hollywood has increasingly become a stomping ground for Republican candidates as well. And in 2016, experts say, expect the GOP to raise even more cha-ching.
“There’s a lot more money this cycle than we previously thought,” Republican strategist and adviser to John McCain in 2008, Ford O’Connell told TheWrap. “Mostly from traditional voters, but also from Hollywood’s underbelly that is not very happy with the economy.”
Jeb Bush, the GOP frontrunner with a polished fundraising machine, is poised to finish the first half of the year with the most donations in the 2016 Republican presidential field. But he’s not the only Republican raising big bucks. Texas senator Ted Cruz’s campaign announced on Sunday that it has raised an impressive $51 million since he announced his candidacy in March. Ben Carson’s campaign has also exceeded expectations with its early fundraising.
Conservative power players have raised plenty of money on the West Coast over the years — albeit less than their Democratic counterparts. But Republican operatives say there is plenty of GOP Hollywood cash up for grabs.
“When you add in Hollywood execs, there’s a lot of money available,” O’Connell said. “A lot of Hollywood power players can also help boost the name recognition of a lot of these [candidates].”
While Republican voters run the gamut, Hollywood conservatives tend to lean toward candidates who are stronger on the economy rather than social issues.
“They’re looking at three or four candidates right now,” said O’Connell. “One is obviously Jeb Bush. Another one is Marco Rubio, because he has a very compelling personal narrative. The third is Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and the fourth is Rand Paul because the tech industry is looking at him closely.”
Kentucky Sen. Paul has been building a coalition of Silicon Valley libertarians and online grass-roots contributors in recent months, reaching out to California’s tech community to create alliances with wealthy industry execs and billionaire entrepreneurs concerned about policy issues like privacy.
But while there are plenty of Republicans in Hollywood, they are much less visible than Democrats.
“Political bigotry is alive and well in Hollywood,” said Lionel Chetwynd, an Academy-Award nominee and member of leading conservative Hollywood group Friends of Abe. “You have to be careful. For many people in Hollywood, I’m considered morally corrupt.”
Founded by actor Gary Sinise in 2004, Friends of Abe boasts more than 2,200 members. The organization has become a popular stop for GOP candidates looking to fill their campaign coffers while soaking up some of Hollywood’s glitz and glamour.
But FOA has kept a deliberately low profile over the years for fear that members might be blacklisted in an overwhelmingly liberal industry. Even so, some big Hollywood names, like Jon Voight, Pat Boone and Kelsey Grammer have stated publicly that they are members.
The group has already met with several 2016 GOP hopefuls including Carly Fiorina, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Carson and Paul.
On Friday the group will host an event with GOP candidate Donald Trump following his controversial comments on undocumented Mexican immigrants.
“I’m anxious to give him the opportunity to clarify what he has said and what is in his heart,” said Chetwynd, whose credits include “The Man Who Captured Eichmann” and “Ike: Countdown to D-Day.”
“We wanted to create a place where people can come privately, meet other people who think like them and not risk their careers.”
According to Chetwynd, one candidate who’s resonated with the group is Cruz.
“He gives you a straight answer,” Chetwynd said. “He’s very straightforward and very intelligent.”
Whether or not he’ll win the support of Hollywood conservatives remains to be seen.
“A lot of them are taking a wait-and-see approach,” said O’Connell. “We have 16 candidates potentially running, so you’re not going to hear a lot of folks voicing their opinion until they know who the final two or three are.”