WASHINGTON — Motion Picture Assn. of America topper Dan Glickman knew it wasn’t going to be easy to escape the long shadow of his legendary predecessor, Jack Valenti.
But he couldn’t have imagined getting caught up in such a furious political firestorm right off the bat.
Just a month a half into the job, Glickman — or more precisely his status as a longtime Democrat and former Clinton administration Cabinet member — is being blamed for costing Hollywood billions of dollars in new tax burdens.
It’s payback time for Hollywood in Washington.
Republicans warned the MPAA not to hire a Democrat if they wanted their top legislative agenda items to get any traction on Capitol Hill. But after spending a year on a failed attempt to court Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), the MPAA tapped Glickman to the plum lobbying post.
Republicans immediately deemed it a colossal mistake and vowed to turn their backs on the movie industry’s legislative wish list.
Last week they got their first chance to demonstrate the depth of their displeasure. In the final round of negotiations on a massive corporate tax bill, which rewards a slew of business interests, House Republicans blocked major tax relief for the movie biz.
Without it Disney, Viacom and Time Warner and several other domestic studios will incur $4 billion to $5 billion worth of new taxes over the next 10 years, according to Ken Kies, the tax lobbyist the studios hired to make their case to Congress.
Kies wouldn’t comment on the motives of House Republicans, or whether he believed the rebuke was in retaliation for Glickman’s hire.
But several GOP political insiders told Daily Variety that House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) weeks ago informed a closed-door luncheon of GOP colleagues that Hollywood would “get what it deserved” in the corporate tax bill.
As a political veteran who has spent nearly three decades inside the Beltway, Glickman is navigating the politically treacherous waters carefully.
In an interview, he said he has “no reason to believe” that the House Republicans decision to deny Hollywood its top tax priority has anything to do with his selection to head the MPAA.
“I have said that I hope that the decision was not based on anybody trying to exact retribution. Hollywood is responsible for hundreds of thousand of jobs in this country,” he told Daily Variety, noting that he is looking at ways to address the tax relief issue next year.
Glickman knows there is reason for concern. Republicans, especially GOP leaders in the House led by Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), practice a ruthless game of hardball politics.
A few years back, the House Ethics Committee reprimanded DeLay for trying to bully another trade association away from hiring another former Democratic lawmaker. And, just last week, DeLay received his third rebuke from the ethics panel in two weeks for attempting to trade a vote on the Medicare bill for political support for the congressional candidacy of a lawmaker’s son.
The third reprimand came the same day DeLay, Thomas and several other influential GOP lawmakers voted thumbs down for the showbiz tax relief.
The confluence of events only led to more complaints about political corruption in Washington and calls for DeLay to resign his leadership post.
“The stories that are appearing about the MPAA speak volumes about the sad ethical climate in Washington right now,” said Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, a watchdog org. “It’s somewhat incredible that it happened in one of the first pieces of major legislation Hollywood wanted since Glickman’s tenure began.”
As the industry’s top lobbyist, Glickman knows he can’t afford to hold grudges, especially with GOP leaders who can block any showbiz priority simply by ignoring it.
Even before his official start date of Sept. 1, Glickman spent hours on the phone reaching out to and meeting with Republican members of Congress. But he has yet to obtain an audience with DeLay.
“I placed dozens and dozens of calls to members of Congress, hundreds of calls,” he said. “Some returned the phone calls and some didn’t. You shouldn’t read anything into it. I can’t remember when or if a call was actually made (to DeLay).”
Whether or not Glickman will meet with DeLay anytime soon, he is definitely trying to extend an olive branch. He has personally interviewed several GOP candidates for top positions at the MPAA and is close to announcing a decision on at least one.
“I’m looking for a highly qualified person to take over the government affairs operation,” he said. “I’ve said that diversity is important in my operation, including political diversity. I expect that a Republican will be hired.”
“It will be soon,” he added. “It’s not a matter of months, that’s for sure.”
Glickman also conducted a bridge-building tour of sorts during the GOP convention when he traveled to New York and rubbed shoulders with such top Republicans as Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.) and incoming Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (Pa.).
“Speaker Hastert and I even hugged,” he reported. “I am doing my best to prove what Jack Valenti instructed me on: to be fair and balanced and impartial and conduct the business of this association in a nonpartisan manner.”