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H’wood set to play in Bush leagues

Ashcroft gets mixed reviews from lobbyists

With President-elect George W. Bush expected to end his Florida fishing trip today, Hollywood’s political mavens are enjoying the calm before the new administration storms into positions of power over the entertainment industry.

Definite Bush noms include Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Missouri) as U.S. Attorney General, while Gen. Colin Powell’s son Michael Powell looks likely to chair the Federal Communications Committee.

Speculation still continues that Time Warner prexy Richard Parsons will be U.S. Trade Representative.

If Ashcroft is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he would shape key policies including antitrust, copyright protection and media violence.

Ashcroft gets mixed reviews from Hollywood lobbyists, who knew him well on the Senate Commerce Committee. Ashcroft, who lost his Senate re-election bid in November, is considered upright and consistent, though very conservative.

He has often sided with anti-entertainment crusaders Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) against Hollywood’s reputed ills.

Spinning on the Web

One of the most technologically astute members of Congress, Ashcroft was first to have his own Web site. He favors some copyright protection, which is expected to be the pre-eminent issue for Hollywood next year.

On the antitrust issue, Ashcroft believes government must make sure mega-mergers don’t stifle competition. He has argued that this review should rest with the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Justice, but has criticized the FCC for overstepping its authority in dissecting mergers.

Hollywood is also paying close attention to Capitol Hill, where a new Congress convenes next week to decide committee assignments.

On the House side, Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.) and Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) are both in the running to head the powerful Commerce Committee, with Tauzin said to have the lead.

The runner-up will control the prominent subcommittee on telecommunications, trade and consumer protection, which may be beefed up by adding finance.

In the Senate, McCain looks set to remain chair of the Commerce Committee, with Lieberman expected to resume his anti-Hollywood crusade, which he toned down while running as the Democratic veep candidate.

The landscape is uncertain at the FTC, where chairman Robert Pitofsky won’t end his term until next summer. Bush could cut it short by choosing an existing commissioner as the new acting chairman. One contender is said to be FTC Commissioner Orson Swindle.

Clinton factor

One unknown factor on Capitol Hill is Senator-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). She is not expected to seek a seat on the Commerce Committee, but could still be an ambassador for Hollywood.

During her campaign, Clinton received more than $500,000 in contributions from the entertainment industry; only presidential candidates get more, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Despite all the changes, entertainment lobbyists aren’t panicking. Realists, they argue that there is bad and good to a Bush presidency and the narrowly divided Congress.

“So far, I have no quarrel,” said one entertainment topper.

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