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Who is Haim Saban and why is he hosting Hillary Clinton in SoCal?

Businessman Haim Saban leads a consortium of US investors in Munich, Germany in 2004.
Businessman Haim Saban leads a consortium of US investors in Munich, Germany in 2004.

Hillary Clinton is headlining a $15,000 per-plate lunch Wednesday to raise money for Terry McAuliffe, who’s running for Governor of Virginia. And the venue for the fundraiser is very familiar territory for the Clintons: the Beverly Hills home of Haim and Cheryl Saban.

When most people visit L.A., they go to Disneyland or the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But when people like the Clintons come here, it’s often the 23,000-square-foot Saban mansion they're hoping to visit.

When President Obama hosts an L.A. fundraiser next month, his aides are considering holding the event at Saban’s mansion, according to Variety Senior Editor Ted Johnson.

“These politicians — at the upper rung of politics — they want to come into town and they want to be assured that they’re not wasting their time and that they can raise substantial amounts of money in one evening,” said Johnson.

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And it’s not just Saban’s own money. It’s his friends'. There’s plenty of people with cash: Saban has influence.

Last year, when Nancy Pelosi convened a gathering of L.A.’s top 50 political fundraisers and consultants, guess where they met?

“If you pick his home to have a fundraiser, you are tying into his network,” Johnson said.

Saban has been one of the most prolific Democratic fundraisers in the country. He’s given close to $12 million to Democrats since 1990, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

He’s donated more than $10 million to Bill Clinton’s Presidential library and the Clinton Foundation.

According to Forbes, Saban is worth $3.5 billion. He owes much of his fortune to the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," which he imported from Japan in early 1990s. The show about teens with superpowers became an instant hit.

In 2001, he sold "Power Rangers" and the rest of the Fox Family network he partially owned to Disney for more than $5 billion.

In 2010, Saban bought back Power Rangers for a reported $100 million.

Though he’s mostly stuck to kids' TV, he also owns part of Univision and serves as the channel's executive chairman.

Passionate for Israel

Saban was born in Egypt in 1944, before his family immigrated to Israel when he was 12.

Though he’s lived in the U.S. for decades – and is a dual citizen – by far his biggest passion remains Israel.

“There is no country in the region – arguably in the world – whose values are more aligned with the U.S. than Israel,” Saban told a pro-Israel group in L.A. two years ago. “But it isn’t only our shared values and love of freedom that [tie] us together. It is also our common interests.” (Saban didn’t respond to KPCC's requests for comment in this story.)

Saban has donated generously to local causes: nearly $47 million to Children's Hospital Los Angeles and $11 million to the Saban Free Clinic. But most of his dollars go outside the city.

“The majority of his philanthropy, that I’m aware is philanthropy, is focusing on Israel’s issues, either in Washington or Israel,” said Jay Sanderson, President and chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “I’m not aware of his involvement locally.”

But it took him a long time to start writing checks to Barack Obama, whom he viewed as soft on Israel.

“Saban was very hesitant and very suspicious that Obama was, at the worst, anti-Israel and the best, neutral on Israel,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior fellow at USC’s Price School of Public Policy. “And that didn’t cut it.”

Saban was so crushed after Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination that he considered supporting John McCain. Ultimately, he decided he couldn’t abandon the Democrats.

Bebich Jeffe says Obama continued courting Saban because his support was too crucial.

“There’s money there, and if you alienate him — if you send him over to your opponent — inside the Beltway and inside Hollywood the perception is you alienated a political player,” said Bebitch Jeffe.

Before last year’s election, Saban penned a New York Times editorial, writing that while Obama could have done a better job highlighting his friendship for Israel, his support for Israel had been rock solid. 

Saban still hasn’t gone so far as to host Obama at his mansion. But that could change next month.