WASHINGTON — One of the nation’s richest hunting grounds for political candidates is Hollywood, and it is particularly important to Democrats.
But while the presidential candidates may be happy with all the money they’re collecting, it’s pretty clear that Hollywood has mixed feelings about what they have seen so far on the Democratic slate.
According to stats tallied by the Center for Responsive Politics, Al Gore has raised $479,245 from entertainment industry sources this year. Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican front-runner, has raised $357,802 from showbizzers, while Democrat Bill Bradley has nabbed $320,874.
These figures are impressive considering they cover just the first six months of 1999, a good 18 months before the election.
But Hollywood is still hedging its bets when it comes to Gore and Bradley. According to one longtime actor-activist, people want to get enthused, but can’t work up much excitement about either Democrat.
At least part of the problem is that neither Gore nor Bradley represents the ideals supported by Hollywood’s pre-Reagan liberals.
Instead, Gore and Bradley seem to have bought into a 1990s version of the Reagan era’s trickle-down economics. They may have criticized the idea at the time, but now that a booming economy has turned the trickle into a flood, Gore and Bradley believe it’s OK to trim welfare because the market will take care of everyone.
That runs counter to the philosophy of Hollywood’s old-guard liberals, who believe that many people get left out of the economy and need government help — no matter how high the Dow soars.
While those liberals are wary of Gore and Bradley, the two candidates continue to be hot attractions on the $1,000-a-ticket fundraising circuit.
Many in Hollywood are not distracted by ideology and just want a chance to shake hands with the tall, dark policy wonks. Neither Gore nor Bradley has the public charisma of President Clinton, but they are strong on the environment, campaign finance and public education.
As the No. 2 man in the Clinton administration, Gore bears glamorous trappings, including a Secret Service detail and an impressive motorcade. But some Hollywood folks in his camp offer a slightly revisionist view of the vice president’s record on the entertainment industry.
DreamWorks exec Andy Spahn suggested last week that Gore has not been a big factor in the debate over the moral values of the mass media. “The vice president did suffer because of the president’s pursuit of the issue, as well as the House and Senate,” he said.
But the fact is, Gore and his wife have been at the center of the cultural debate, and he has stated in recent speeches that Hollywood must hold itself accountable for its negative influences on the nation’s youth.
Donna Bojarsky, who provides political advice to Richard Dreyfuss, said that key players in the creative community are not put off by Gore’s cultural rhetoric. “In no way are these people seen as an enemy of culture,” she asserted.
As for Bradley, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he has proven a remarkable draw in showbiz. During his years as a senator from New Jersey, Bradley regularly passed through Hollywood, developing relationships with many of its key players, including Barry Diller, Sydney Pollack and Michael Eisner.
“Over the years, he cultivated a very close relationship with a diverse group of prominent people,” said Marge Tabankin, one of a small group in Hollywood who provide professional political consulting services to players such as Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand.
Bradley’s biography is also a big selling point. Princeton graduate. Rhodes scholar. Former star for the New York Knicks. Prominent senator from New Jersey.
But the similarity between Gore and Bradley makes the Hollywood social dynamic all the more important. “In any kind of entertainment industry fundraising event, who is doing the inviting is often as important as who is the guest,” said one Hollywood political insider.
Bush has found much of his showbiz financial support outside Hollywood — from radio and television station owners, for example. But execs at Warner Bros. added more than $13,000 to his campaign, and agents at Endeavor added $7,000 more. Outgoing Warner Bros. co-chairman Terry Semel hosted an event at his home to introduce Bush to the Hollywood community.
It’s hard to gauge Hollywood support just by the checks it writes. Semel gave to Bush, but he also gave to Bradley.
And this early in the campaign, Semel is hardly the only exec to hedge his bets. King World’s Michael King gave $1,000 each to Gore and Bradley. So did Warner Bros. president Ed Bleier, record exec Danny Goldberg and former 20th Century Fox owner Marvin Davis. Eisner, like Semel, gave to both Bradley and Bush.
More than anywhere else in the country, Hollywood has a concentration of wealthy liberals who make large donations based on their political convictions rather than on the economic self-interest of the particular industry in which they happen to work.
Add a little social ambition to this cocktail and it provides a perfect town for fundraisers to exploit.
“The bottom line in this town is that people love hanging out with politicians,” said another politically active Hollywood insider.
According to the latest Federal Election Commission reports, which show all donations to major candidates during the first six months of 1999, the entire entertainment industry — including studio, broadcasting, cable, production and music execs — has donated more than $1 million to the major presidential candidates in that period. That’s a lot of activity — especially when the maximum donation to an individual candidate is $2,000 at this stage in the campaign.
Most donors in the entertainment industry are writing checks for at least $1,000. “These are people who can afford $2,000 fundraisers,” deadpanned one source who is active politically in L.A.