In 2008, billionaire media mogul David Geffen was among Barack Obama’s most visible Hollywood supporters. A top-level fundraiser for the Obama campaign, Geffen hosted major Hollywood events and launched a tide-turning media attack against primary opponent Hillary Clinton.
In 2012, he’s all but absent from the political landscape.
Sure, Geffen has given the maximum allowable personal donation of a few thousand dollars to the Obama campaign, but that’s not saying much in the age of the super PAC. Unlike fellow Dreamworks founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, Geffen is missing from Obama’s list of bundlers and his list of super PAC donors.
Geffen is the only top-tier Jewish 2008 bundler for Obama who is not bundling in 2012, excluding those currently working for the federal government.
Geffen’s reduced role this cycle is puzzling. And though it hasn’t entirely been explained by Geffen’s office, it appears to coincide with his relative withdrawal from public life since 2008.
Geffen spokesman Dallas Dishman wrote in an email that “Mr. Geffen has maxed on contributions to the Obama campaign and that he continues to be supportive of President Obama and his campaign.” In a subsequent phone call, Dishman said that he couldn’t say anything further on Geffen’s political giving, that there was no one else who could, and that Geffen himself was traveling.
A billionaire five and a half times over, Geffen is the 58th richest American, according to Forbes. He is also the owner, since 2010, of the seventh-largest yacht in the world, the 450-foot, quintuple-decked Rising Sun. In October 2008, a month before the presidential election, he unexpectedly left Dreamworks SKG, the movie company he founded with Katzenberg and Stephen Spielberg.
Hollywood observers say that Geffen has been less of a presence in Hollywood since 2008, and that he is often off traveling on his yacht. That could go some way toward explaining Geffen’s absence from the bundlers list this year, as bundlers need to be around to host events and pick up checks.
Still, Geffen has a history of turning on politicians who disappoint him. Once a major Clinton supporter who raised millions for the former president and spent nights in the Lincoln Bedroom, Geffen was infuriated by Clinton’s decision not to extend a pardon to jailed Native American activist Leonard Peltier. Geffen later unleashed on the Clintons during the 2008 primary, telling New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd: “Everybody in politics lies, but [the Clintons] do it with such ease, it’s troubling.”
There’s no indication that Geffen has now soured on Obama. Geffen is linked to gay rights causes, particularly through his recent funding of the legal effort to overturn Proposition 8 in California. And though some gay rights advocates are frustrated with the president’s refusal to come out explicitly in favor of same-sex marriage, most continue to support Obama’s reelection.
Meanwhile, Geffen allies like Katzenberg and former Dreamworks executive Andy Spahn continue to bundle for Obama. Perhaps Geffen is just too busy enjoying retirement.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.