Celebs stump for presidential candidates
Los Angeles (AFP) – Hillary Clinton has Ben Affleck and George Clooney on her team, while Donald Trump’s celebrity backers fall more on the tough guy side with the likes of Hulk Hogan or Mike Tyson.
Susan Sarandon and Spike Lee are feeling the Bern.
Celebrities have long had an active voice in promoting their favorite candidates during America’s presidential elections and this year is no different.
Hardly a week goes by without a Hollywood star, a studio mogul or a celebrity throwing a lavish fundraiser for their favorite politician or party, where plunking down $50,000 to schmooze with a candidate is common.
“The main importance of Hollywood celebrities is that they draw attention to a candidate in a way no other industry can,” said Steve Ross, a history professor at the University of California.
Consider talk show host Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, which brought him about one million votes, according to a study by the University of Maryland.
Of the candidates hoping for a similar windfall this year, Clinton — the Democratic frontrunner, battling rival Bernie Sanders — appears the favorite among Hollywood’s movers and shakers.
Apart from Clooney and Affleck, she has also won endorsements from director Steven Spielberg, singers Barbra Streisand and Sting and a slew of other A-listers who together represent the fifth largest source of contribution for the former secretary of state.
Sanders has also attracted a stable of celebrity backers such as actor Mark Ruffalo and director Michael Moore.
Trump, now the presumptive Republican nominee — and himself something of a celebrity — is so far trailing with a relative B-list of big names behind him, many of them from the world of sports.
Overall, celebrities have so far poured $27 million into the 2016 election cycle, with almost three-quarters of the money going to Democratic hopefuls, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group.
That’s a far cry from the nearly $231 million Wall Street has injected into the campaign, but nonetheless not a sum to be sniffed at.
“The amount of dollars raised in Hollywood might not equal that of the unions or Wall Street or teachers, but really what celebrities bring more than money is their visibility,” said Sarah Bryner, research director at the Center for Responsive Politics.
“So when you get support from someone like Beyonce or George Clooney, that’s a boost to your image.”
– ‘Never underestimate egos’ –
Some endorsements, however, can prove more embarrassing than beneficial.
“I don’t think anyone wants an endorsement from Mel Gibson and even to this day, I don’t think anyone wants an endorsement from Jane Fonda. She’s still too controversial,” Ross said, referring to the actress’s controversial activism during the Vietnam War.
He also noted that while Hollywood may be known as the land of the liberals, studio execs are well aware of the old proverb — never put all your eggs in one basket.
“People generally talk about Hollywood as this homogeneous entity but there are two distinct Hollywoods,” he said. “There’s the corporate Hollywood which is all about making money and there is the creative Hollywood.”
And what do all these celebs expect in exchange for their support?
“They are not naive enough to think that they can influence the candidate’s agenda,” Ross said. “But nobody should ever underestimate the egos in Hollywood.
“If you’re giving high six figures or more than a million dollars… you expect that if you want to speak to the president, your call will be returned.”