Tales from the Trail

The Oscars, an evening of golden statues and golden donors – to Democrats

In a presidential election year, the Oscar statuettes are not the only gold-plated figures at Hollywood’s annual Academy Awards ceremony. The audience on Sunday will be sprinkled with big political donors — at least to Democrats.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, head of DreamWorks Animation, which has three films up for awards, is a top bundler for President Obama who has donated $4 million in national and state-level races, according to The Sunlight Foundation, which analyzed data about filmdom donations. Katzenberg gave half that total – $2 million – to Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama Super PAC.

Steven Spielberg, who produced the best picture nominee “War Horse,” has spent $1.6 million in donations to Democratic state and federal candidates and committees, including Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and California Governor Jerry Brown, Sunlight said.

Among other big names, George Clooney, a best actor nominee for “The Descendants,” has given $178,000 to Democratic candidates and committees including Obama and the Democratic National Committee. Brad Pitt, a Best Actor nominee for “Moneyball,” donated $100,000 against California’s Proposition 8, the effort to ban same-sex marriage. Glenn Close, a best actress nominee for “Albert Nobbs,” has donated $47,900 to recipients including Obama and the DNC. And director Martin Scorsese, up for best director for “Hugo,” has made donations totaling $27,600, to recipients including Obama, the DNC and New York’s two senators, both Democrats, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

“The results of our inquiry do absolutely nothing to dispel the notion that the Hollywood hills are a Democratic stronghold,” Sunlight said.

Washington Extra – Gasoline alley

President Obama may have his facts right on what’s behind higher gasoline prices and he might be correct in saying that the causes are largely beyond his control. But even his strong arguments won’t stand a chance with Americans if a gallon of gas heads up to $5 in coming months.

Nevertheless, the president clearly understood the importance of getting his message out there early and his speech today in Florida was well timed. Rising gas prices are leading the nightly news shows this week and Republican presidential candidates are squarely placing the blame on Obama and his energy policies. Last night, right out of the debate gate, Newt Gingrich said he would give Americans $2.50 gas if he won the White House.

“You can bet that since it’s an election year, they’re already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas,” Obama said. “I’ll save you the suspense: Step one is drill, step two is drill and step three is keep drilling.”

Contraception question booed at Republican debate

A question about contraception caused a flareup in the culture wars during the last Republican presidential debate before next week’s Arizona and Michigan primaries and “Super Tuesday.”

The question drew boos from the audience and impassioned statements from the four candidates on the stage in Mesa, Arizona, last night.

“Since birth control is the latest hot topic, which candidate believes in birth control, and if not, why?” was the question posed via cnnpolitics.com.

Hispanic activists protest Romney on Dream Act ahead of debate

Campaigning in Iowa late last year, Mitt Romney said he would veto a proposal granting U.S. citizenship to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children.

While turning his back on the so-called Dream Act won him support from grassroots conservatives in the Midwest, it brought out Hispanic activists in protest against him ahead of the debate on Wednesday.

“I just want a president who is going to be good for my community, for people who have a dream and want an education,” said Carla Uiquidi, one of a dozen or so protesters in the street opposite the Mesa Arts Center toting placards that read “Veto Romney Not the Dream Act.”

Washington Extra – Tax time

If President Obama did indeed schedule the release of his corporate tax revamp Wednesday to steal the spotlight from Mitt Romney’s tax plan rollout – as some critics charge – it just might have worked. The Obama plan was the top story of the day.

But perhaps more importantly, Obama neutralized corporate taxes as an election year issue by aligning himself with Republican positions.

Sure, there may be differences in the tax rates each candidate backs – Obama at 28 percent, Romney 25 percent, Santorum 17.5 percent and Gingrich 12.5 percent.

Obama sings again, this time blues with B.B. King, Mick Jagger

President Barack Obama gave what appeared to be an impromptu performance of “Sweet Home Chicago” during a blues concert Tuesday night at the White House in celebration of Black History Month.

At the end of an evening of performances from the likes of B.B. King, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck, Derek Trucks, Shemekia Copeland and others, Obama grabbed a mic from the stage and crooned, “Come on, baby don’t you wanna go,” part of the popular blues standard.

A month ago, Obama sang a little Al Green — a moment captured on video and viewed thousands of times over. It was seen as having added cool points to the president. Afterwards First Lady Michelle said Obama sings to her all the time.

Santorum explains “phony theology” comment

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum says he wasn’t questioning Barack Obama’s faith on Saturday when he said the Democratic president’s agenda was based on “some phony theology.”

Santorum explained his comments during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, saying he was questioning the president’s world view — not his faith.

“I accept the fact that the president’s Christian,” Santorum said. “I just said that when you have a world view that elevates the earth above man says that, you know, we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the earth by things that are frankly just not scientifically proven.”

from Tax Break:

Obama touts Boeing, critics lament company tax breaks

Obama went to aircraft giant Boeing on Friday to tout U.S. manufacturing and to pitch changes in the U.S. tax code – including slashing tax deductions for corporations that shutter U.S. plants, and a new minimum tax on foreign profits earned in tax havens.
“My attitude is every multinational company should have to pay a basic international tax. You should not have an advantage by building a plant over there, over somebody who is investing here and hiring American workers,” Obama said visiting a Boeing plant in Everett, Washington.

“And every penny of that minimum tax should go towards lowering taxes for companies like Boeing that choose to stay and hire here in the United States of America," he said.

Ironic, since most business groups are privately groaning about the idea of a basic minimum tax on foreign profits earned in low tax countries like the Cayman Islands.

Santorum: backer’s contraceptives comment was bad joke

“It was a stupid joke,” Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum says about a wealthy backer’s “aspirins for contraceptives” comment.

Whatever it was, Santorum — a staunch social conservative – said he’s not going to be responsible for what his supporters say.

“I’m not going to play that game,” the former Pennsylvania senator told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren Thursday night when asked about what Foster Friess said earlier in the day.

Washington Extra – Peace by piece

Not since Vietnam has the United States sat down with an enemy it was fighting on the battlefield and negotiated an exit from war. That long-standing policy might end this year if a carefully choreographed diplomatic dance takes U.S. and Afghan officials to a negotiating table with the Taliban.

As Reuters Washington correspondent Missy Ryan explains, President Obama’s peace gambit has the potential to be a significant development for U.S. foreign policy. But it turns out it is a policy borne out of necessity: two years ago, the Pentagon thought the Taliban could be defeated militarily, and today, it’s all too clear they aren’t going away.

There are many hurdles and not insignificant push back here at home to overcome. And Obama may want to don a helmet for the incoming fire… from Capitol Hill. As soon as he notifies Congress of plans to move Taliban detainees from Guantanamo to get the ball rolling, he is sure to face a torrent of attacks.