Rick Caruso’s self-funded mayoral candidacy has largely overshadowed how another wealthy local is shelling out historic amounts in support of the first-time candidate’s opponent, Rep. Karen Bass.
Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg donated $1 million on Wednesday to Communities United for Bass for LA Mayor 2022, pushing his total contributions to the group to about $1.85 million. As an independent expenditure committee, the group is legally separate from Bass’ campaign and does not coordinate with it.
Other Hollywood luminaries have also donated to the group: On Monday, director Steven Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw Spielberg, each gave $125,000, while producer Norman Lear contributed $5,000.
Producer-director J.J. Abrams and his wife, Katie McGrath, who are co-chief executives of Bad Robot Productions, each gave $50,000 last month. They each gave $125,000 in spring.
The pro-Bass group has raised almost $5 million since the start of the year. A new and separate pro-Bass PAC led by the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters took in more than $2 million in contributions in recent weeks.
This largesse, on top of the $6 million her campaign spent through the last filling period, pales in comparison with the roughly $70 million Caruso has poured into his campaign since jumping into the race.
“Rick Caruso shows no signs of stopping the infusion of tens of millions of his own dollars into his vanity campaign for mayor,” said Morgan Miller, chair of Communities United for Bass. “We need every resource available so we can hold him accountable.”
Aside from Caruso, Katzenberg’s spending represents the largest individual giving to a candidate in city elections this cycle.
Katzenberg, a DreamWorks co-founder and former chairman of Walt Disney Studios, has long been a political donor, but his contributions have usually gone to support national politicians such as President Obama and Hillary Clinton. He gave heavily to the campaign of President Biden, raising more than $700,000 at one event.
In 2013, Katzenberg put more than $101,000 into the unsuccessful effort to elect Wendy Greuel — who worked with him at DreamWorks — as mayor.
This cycle, though, his political donations at the local level have jumped and coincided with an invigorated interest in L.A.’s homelessness crisis.
In summer 2021, Katzenberg met with local elected officials and aides who work on homelessness policy in the run-up to a vote to impose new anti-camping rules, which allow the city to remove encampments erected by homeless people near key public facilities, such as libraries and homeless shelters, once offers of housing have been made.
Since then he’s continued to meet with people who play a part in the city and county’s response to homelessness seeking to understand how management of the crisis could be improved.
During the primary, Katzenberg spread around some $1.37 million to local, county and statewide candidates.
That included the maximum $800 donations to City Council members Mitch O’Farrell, Bob Blumenfield, Monica Rodriguez and Curren Price. Katzenberg also donated $500,000 to a committee supporting former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna’s bid to unseat L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
He has also recently donated another $500,000 to the committee supporting Luna, according to a spokesman.
Katzenberg’s donations to the pro-Bass committee mostly went to ads burnishing Bass’ resume and attacking Caruso for his previous registration as a Republican and his past support of politicians who oppose abortion. For his part, Caruso is now a registered Democrat — he joined the party less than a month before entering the race after being registered as no party preference and before that Republican. He also says he’s always supported abortion rights.
In spring, the volleying of attacks between the two rich men got more personal. Variety published an interview with Caruso in which he attacked Katzenberg for “lying” about him in ads. Katzenberg then called him “too thin-skinned and temperamental to serve as our mayor.”
In a statement Thursday, Katzenberg said Caruso “must be held accountable. Karen Bass deserves our support and needs the resources to compete with Caruso’s self-funded anti-choice campaign.”
“It is critical that we do what we can to ensure voters hear the truth,” he added.
Asked about Katzenberg’s donation, Caruso spokesman Peter Ragone cited a speech Bass gave at a Scientology event more than a decade ago along with her previous support of city attorney candidate Faisal Gill, which she rescinded after one of his more progressive policy platforms came under fire.
“No amount of money Jeff will spend will cover up Karen Bass’ support for antigay and antiabortion groups and candidates,” Ragone said.
Gill — a Republican turned progressive running to the left of his opponent in the city attorney’s race — spoke out against same-sex marriage in 2006. But Gill has long since disavowed that position, telling The Times this year that it was “absolutely wrong.”
His views had transformed by 2008, when he campaigned against Proposition 8, California’s now-overturned same-sex marriage ban, he told a Vermont outlet in 2017.
After an ad featuring Bass speaking at a Scientology started airing last month, Bass spokeswoman Sarah Leonard Sheahan responded: “Everybody knows Karen Bass condemns Scientology.”
“It’s laughable and a little sad that Rick Caruso is now trying to ‘out pro-choice’ Democrat Karen Bass,” Leonard Sheahan added Thursday.
Times staff writer Julia Wick contributed to this report.