Obama's Hollywood searchlight finds firm of major donor

Obama's Hollywood searchlight finds firm of major donor
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 - 8:22pm

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- For President Obama, the final stop on his three-day West Coast jaunt may prove to be the most familiar: He'll deliver remarks at the animation studio headed by one of his top financial backers who he's also called a longtime friend.

The stop at Jeffrey Katzenberg's DreamWorks Animation is meant to highlight the homegrown American entertainment industry, a source of jobs and exports--both financial and cultural---the President can tout as part of a revived U.S. economy.

But in choosing DreamWorks, the President is also singling out the firm of one of his top financial backers, who brought in millions for Obama's two presidential election efforts and whose contributions fueled the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA.

DreamWorks, the studio behind the massively popular "Shrek" franchise, has been ranked as one Fortune Magazine's best places to work, partly for the expansive, Mediterranean-style campus where the studio is based in Glendale. That's where Obama will speak Tuesday. The studio employs more than a thousand workers; however, a poor box office for "Rise of the Guardians" earlier this year forced DreamWorks to lay off 350.

At the time of the staff reduction, in February, Katzenberg told "The Hollywood Reporter" the layoffs were "the hardest thing I've had to do since we started DreamWorks."

"We've never had to lay anybody off," he told the trade publication. "It was against our culture. But it's the right thing for us today, and it makes (DreamWorks Animation) strong going forward."

In the months since the layoffs, some new jobs have been added at Dreamworks; in all, the entertainment industry has added jobs over the last year. However, like manufacturing and customer service positions, animators and certain technical roles risk being outsourced to countries with cheaper labor.

Southern California, where the President is also raising money for Congressional Democrats, is home to virtually all of the country's movie and animation outlets, meaning Obama could have chosen any number of places to highlight the entertainment industry's importance in the overall economy.

A White House spokesman said Monday that Katzenberg's financial ties to Obama and Democrats didn't play a role in the choice of venue.

"Contributing to the President's campaign or being a political supporter of the President doesn't guarantee a presidential visit, but it shouldn't exclude you from one either," Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said aboard Air Force One.

"DreamWorks obviously is a thriving business and is creating lots of jobs in Southern California. And the fact of the matter is Mr. Katzenberg's support for the President's policies has no bearing on our decision to visit there; rather, it's an opportunity to highlight the success of one business and the success that they're having in creating jobs in California," Earnest continued.

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