Who do the A-listers call when they want to get things done? They call The Influencers -- a key group of people who have been quietly advising their clients on how to get involved in the political and philanthropic spheres. You might not know their names, but you’re sure to know their Hollywood clients, and the Influencers are the first on the phone list when politicians make their SoCal campaign stops for donations, endorsements and most importantly, the stellar Hollywood network. Find out who the five key Hollywood influencers are in these in-depth interviews and profiles, as they discuss their careers and experiences in Tinseltown’s dalliance with D.C.
The Go-To Guy
Name: Andy Spahn
Current Role: President of Andy Spahn and Associates, Inc.
Affiliations: DreamWorks SKG (Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg)
When a Democratic candidate wants to make a pit stop in Hollywood, the man to call is Andy Spahn.
Spahn currently serves as political consultant to a very high-profile clientele, with DreamWorks CEOs Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg at the top of the list. With his connections, Spahn can always be trusted to bring the big spenders to the table.
His career in politics developed in a similar way to that of Margery Tabankin [link to her Influencer page], a fellow Hollywood political consultant and current executive director of The Streisand Foundation. Both were arrested for protesting the Vietnam War in their student years, both were inspired by former student radical and former California legislator Tom Hayden, and both were lured to California from Washington, D.C.
A native of New York, Spahn attended the University of Berkeley and attained a degree in political science. His journey brought him to California in the 1980s, where he worked for Hayden and Jane Fonda's Campaign for Economic Democracy. He went on to work as chief of staff to then–State Controller Gray Davis. In the early 1990s, Spahn was the executive vice president for The Geffen Company, and David Geffen himself used Spahn’s expertise to further his own political activities. In 1994, DreamWorks SKG brought Spahn on as the head of corporate affairs and communications, a position he held until 2006, when he left to found his own consultancy.
But Spahn doesn’t just specialize in political fundraising. For the DreamWorks trio, he has worked as a PR troubleshooter of sorts, tackling such thorny issues as Spielberg's environmentally insensitive proposal to build a horse ring in Brentwood, as well as the director's political stance in relation to China’s support of the Sudanese government in the region of Darfur. (In 2008, Spielberg withdrew his services as an artistic adviser to the Beijing Summer Olympics.)
It is well known that Spielberg, Geffen and Katzenberg are three of Hollywood’s heavyweight Democratic fundraisers. All three are very active politically, with Spielberg’s donations to various candidates in 2010 listed at $54,000, Geffen’s at $60,400 and Katzenberg’s at $61,600.
But it’s not just the personal checks that the trinity can deliver.
“If Jeffrey commits to an event or a candidate, he gets on the phone, he works it personally,” says John Emerson [link to his Influencer page], the Southern California co-chair of Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, and a longtime acquaintance of Spahn’s.
“Jeffrey has a staff of people, headed by Andy [Spahn], and they work it hard, and they’re bringing lots of people to the table,” explains Emerson. “It’s less that they write the big check, although they still also contribute, obviously, but they are getting other people who are also very effective fundraisers in Hollywood.” Spahn is already ranked in the upper echelon of Obama fundraisers, those who have collected more than $500,000 in contributions for the Obama for America 2012 campaign.
“Andy has kept his progressive principles, his attachment to social movements and causes often considered too radical for the mainstream, and has nonetheless risen to the highest levels of power in the Democratic Party, the levels where money matters most,” says Tom Hayden, Spahn’s former employer.
For every big Democratic fundraiser held in Los Angeles in the last decade, Spahn has been influential in bringing together the big spenders, led by Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen.
“Andy can organize a great deal of money and can influence his principals to get behind a candidate they otherwise wouldn’t have got behind,” says Bill Zimmerman, a veteran political consultant based in Los Angeles. “That’s the value of somebody like that, they can take somebody who is obscure, and by making the right connections, turn them into a credible candidate,” he says.
Zimmerman himself was the chairman of Medical Aid for El Salvador and has produced advertising for senators like Gary Hart; he has worked on campaigns such as MoveOn.Org's $23 million effort to defeat George Bush in 2004. Zimmerman's career inspired him to write "Troublemaker: A Memoir from the Front Lines of the Sixties,"published in April 2011.
Numerous Democratic candidates, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, have benefited from the gilded Spahn touch over the years. Obama’s initial fundraising was aided hugely by Spahn, especially returns from a February 2007 evening hosted for the Illinois senator by Geffen, Spielberg and Katzenberg — undoubtedly put together with Spahn’s expertise. That event pulled in $1.3 million and put a spanner in opponent Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Hollywood.
“Barack Obama in 2007 actually outraised Hillary Clinton, which is pretty astonishing when you think about where he was coming from and where she was coming from. It wasn’t on the Internet, it was traditional fundraising,” says political consultant Garry South, who used to work for candidates like Gavin Newsom and Gary Hart.
In the run-up to the 2012 elections, Spahn has already been hard at work pulling his connections together. In April of this year, Spahn was behind the president’s Hollywood rally, which saw over 2,500 attendees congregate at Sony Studios. A handful of big Hollywood spenders, including Ton Hanks and George Clooney, along with Spielberg, Geffen and Sony Pictures chairman Michael Lynton, enjoying a closed audience with President Obama at two intimate dinners, one of which was hosted by Emerson and the other by Katzenberg. Both were pulled together with Spahn’s expertise and influence, and the total raised was estimated to be in the $4 million range.
Hayden credits Spahn for moving up the ladder in Hollywood to garner the attention of the political bigwigs.
“He has done so by being a careful cultivator of many individual progressives who have become rich donors through their roles in the arts and entertainment,” says Hayden.
With Spahn’s experience, connections and influence in Hollywood, it is no wonder that he is the first name to be uttered by anyone when a Democratic candidate needs the Hollywood connection. As the campaigns kick off and the trails blaze, Spahn’s touch can be measured through the glittering funds that pour out of Hollywood’s golden hands.