Hollywood-Midwest: Rahm Emanuel Chicago Race Draws Spielberg, Geffen, Katzenberg Dollars

Hollywood influencers pour cash far to the east – into the Chicago mayoral race

rahm emanuel

For an incumbent seeking re-election in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel attracts a lot of Hollywood campaign dollars.

Maybe he’s unusually fetching to top entertainment industry players and it has nothing whatsoever to do with brother Ari’s Hollywood ties, but Emanuel has received $50,000 from David Geffen, $25,000 from Steven Spielberg, $10,000 from Jeffrey Katzenberg; $5,000 from Jeff Shell and $100,000 from Cheryl Saban (the wife of Haim Saban) for a race he could win outright next Tuesday, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Ari Emanuel is co-CEO of Beverly Hills-based William Morris Endeavor, one of the world’s largest talent agencies.

A recent examination of Emanuel’s fundraising apparatus by The Chicago Tribune found a number of benefactors including finance executives, corporate CEOs and DC insiders whose interests lie beyond his jurisdiction. Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, gave $50,000; Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad provided $25,000 and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave $10,000. Emanuel also drew big contributions from some venture capitalists.

But little has been said thus far of the funds chipped in by the entertainment industry, which also counts among its contributions $15,000 from Comcast EVP David L. Cohen; $5,300 from Broadway producer Jordan Roth; $2,500 from Charlie Thurston, president of Comcast Spotlight; $2,500 from Joseph W. Waz Jr., a senior strategic advisor for creative content protection at NBCUniversal; $1,000 from David Pecker, Chairman & CEO of American Media and $5,000 from screenwriter Jennifer Friedes (who, unlike the rest, lives in Chicago).

Asked by TheWrap for an explanation behind the Hollywood contributions and whether Ari Emanuel in any way plays a role, a press spokesman for Rahm Emanuel’s campaign declined comment.

A spokesman for Geffen said the philanthropist is out of the country and unavailable to comment. A spokesman for Katzenberg and Spielberg described Rahm Emanuel as “a close friend” of both men.

Polling by The Chicago Tribune released over the weekend suggests growing popularity for the Chicago mayor, former congressman and ex-chief of staff under President Obama. The results reveal that Emanuel would get 45 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s Chicago election. If he nets more than 50 percent, he avoids an April runoff.

Emanuel drew Hollywood funds in his first race for office four years ago too. Emanuel’s campaign had to return $300,000 of a $400,000 contribution then from Haim Saban, because the amount exceeded the $100,000 maximum in place at the time.

Illinois generally limits campaign contributions in local races to $5,300 for an individual, $10,500 for corporations and $52,600 for political action committees, but those limits were suspended last year in the mayor’s race when another mayoral candidate gave his campaign $100,000.

As White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel almost surely developed his own ties to Hollywood. Katzenberg bundled $353,000 to President Obama in 2008 according to opensecrets.org, and was the president’s top donor in 2012, providing more than $2.6 million to Obama’s campaign and political action committees. Spielberg gave $1 million to President Obama’s political action committee. Both have been regular White House visitors.

The contributions come as another entertainment industry icon, George Lucas, tries to move forward on plans to erect the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art on Chicago’s lakefront. Lucas’s wife, Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments and chairman of the board of DreamWorks Animation SKG, lives in Chicago.

Plans to erect the museum on lakefront park land have drawn a federal court lawsuit from Friends of the Parks, a Chicago group concerned about the use of the parcel both for the Lucas Museum and possibly for a Barack Obama Presidential Library. The Chicago Park District, which earlier approved the Lucas Museum proposal, also voted last week to transfer up to 20 acres from one of two parks to the City of Chicago for an Obama Library. The University of Chicago is also seeking the library.

Friends of the Parks’ suit questions whether the city and the Chicago Park District have the legal authority to convert park land to museum use, but is directed immediately at the Lucas Museum.

Cassandra J. Francis, the group’s president, said the Friends of the Parks would welcome the Lucas museum in Chicago, just not on park land.

The City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District have asked that the suit be dismissed. A hearing that may include a ruling is set for Mar. 12.