I spoke at a political journalism conference in Chicago in late 2014 about life on the campaign money beat. David Axelrod, the longtime adviser to President Obama and a former journalist himself, sat in the front row. Afterward, Axelrod stopped me. He said he’d enjoyed my remarks but wanted to impress something upon me. Today’s money-in-politics coverage, he said, does a fine enough job reporting on big donations and even bigger personalities. But it misses the bigger picture. “It’s about connecting the money to results, to outcomes,” he said. “What are these people getting for their money?”
It was in that spirit that I approached profiling Haim Saban, the Israeli-American billionaire and media mogul who is arguably the biggest donor to Bill and Hillary Clinton throughout their careers. Saban, as I report, has given tens of millions in donations and other financial support to the Clintons, not to mention all manner of non-monetary—but no less valuable—help over the years. Now, with Clinton poised to win this year's presidential contest, no donor is better positioned to push his agenda and realize his goals (read on to see what exactly those are) than the 72-year-old Saban.
The Billionaire Creator of the Power Rangers Has Invested Millions in Hillary Clinton. So What Does He Want?
Haim Saban's not-so-secret agenda.
Mother Jones | November/December 2016
ON AUGUST 22, a convoy of blacked-out Suburbans, flanked by police escorts, sped west along Sunset Boulevard and then headed north into the Hollywood Hills. The motorcade finally pulled up to the gated entrance of Beverly Park, an exclusive enclave that is home to an array of famous actors, rockers, and other Los Angeles A-listers. Hillary Clinton's destination that evening was the palatial compound of Univision chairman Haim Saban, a billionaire most famous for creating the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Saban's sprawling mansion was built in the style of a French country manor, and the meticulously tended grounds, in which he took special pride, were modeled on the gardens of Versailles.
Over a late dinner, Clinton regaled Saban, his wife, Cheryl, and 100 guests—including Disney CEO Bob Iger, DreamWorks Animation founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, and basketball legend Magic Johnson—with war stories from the campaign trail. "Well, the latest one they have on me is that I'm dying," she said, referring to the elaborate conspiracy theories about her health ginned up by conservative media. "That's a new one." The price of admission to the Sabans' fundraiser—their second for Clinton during the 2016 race—was $100,000 per couple. After a few hours of mingling, Clinton had raised more than $5 million—one of the most lucrative hauls of her campaign.
Saban, who is solidly built with slicked-back wavy black hair, is worth an estimated $3.5 billion, earning him the 453rd spot on Forbes' ranking of the world's richest people. The 72-year-old holds dual Israeli-American citizenship, and his office—which occupies the top floor of a 26-story tower in LA's Century City—is a testament to his divided loyalties. An Israeli flag and an American flag adorn his conference room, next to photographs of Abraham Lincoln, David Ben-Gurion, Theodor Herzl, and John F. Kennedy. A framed Golda Meir quote in the lobby ("We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us") greets visitors. There's also a mock version of Monopoly called Haimopoly on display. The play money bears the Power Rangers logo, and the properties on the board include some of Saban's current and former business interests—the Paul Frank designer brand, TV network Univision, the Israeli telecommunications company Bezeq.
Saban has the self-made mogul's way of both downplaying and reminding you of his clout. In one breath he'll name-drop "Angela" (German Chancellor Angela Merkel) or "Bibi" (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu); in the next he'll describe himself as a mere "former cartoon schlepper" or "just a guy."
But there is one subject on which Saban does not hold back: his relationship with Bill and Hillary Clinton. No single political patron has done more for the Clintons over the span of their careers. In the past 20 years, Saban and his wife have donated $2.4 million to the Clintons' various campaigns and at least $15 million to the Clinton Foundation, where Cheryl Saban serves as a board member. Haim Saban prides himself on his top-giver status: "If I'm not No. 1, I'm going to cut my balls off," he once remarked on the eve of a Hillary fundraiser. The Sabans have given more than $10 million to Priorities USA, making them among the largest funders of the pro-Hillary super-PAC. In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential campaign, he vowed to spend "whatever it takes" to elect her.