Hollywood is once again stepping forward to influence a host of initiatives that will appear on California’s ballot, mindful of the old adage that as the Golden State goes, so goes the nation.
Last week, Robert Redford recorded a robocall that was sent out to voters urging opposition to Proposition 23, a measure backed by oil companies to roll back the state’s landmark climate-change laws. This week, a group of filmmakers will be releasing documentary “Gerrymandering,” just as backers of two competing propositions are engaged in a battle over redistricting reform. And there is some anticipation that at least some showbiz figures will come out in favor of Proposition 19, the initiative that would legalize — and tax — marijuana.
What has been more difficult, however, has been raising money from industry donors, especially compared to 2008, when a flood of last-minute entertainment money lifted the No on 8 campaign to beat back the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage, or in 2006, when producer Steve Bing spent almost $50 million on the unsuccessful campaign for Proposition 87, which would have taxed producers of oil in California to pay for alternative energy.
“The economy has had an effect on all fund-raising, but this also being a very key election, there are a lot of competing interests,” says producer Dayna Bochco, who is helping to organize industry efforts against Prop 23.
She also worked on the lobbying effort to pass the 2006 law that the initiative is designed to roll back: AB 32, which includes a host of measures to reduce carbon emissions in the state. Prop 23, backed predominantly by oil companies including Texas-based Valero and Tesoro Corp., would suspend the implementation of the law until unemployment drops to 5.5% or below for four consecutive quarters. They have pitched it as a “California Jobs Initiative,” noting that the regulation it imposes threatens growth.
The biggest single contribution to the No on 23 campaign has come from hedge-fund manager Thomas Steyer, who has shelled out $5 million. Some entertainment money has come via the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, and thesps who have turned out for events include Amy Smart and Edward James Olmos. But backers expect interest from the entertainment community and its heavy concentration of eco-activists to only grow in the coming weeks.
Also helping boost the profile of the No on 23 campaign is California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed the 2006 bill into law and sees it as one of his signature achievements.
Supporters note that the law has triggered action. Since the passage of AB 32, Bochco says, media congloms have voluntarily “really greened their studios.” Environmental advocate Van Jones, who spoke at a CREDO Action Fund rally against the proposition last week, says it threatens to kill off California’s green tech industry, one of the few bright spots in job growth even as other countries, like China, invest in green technology development.
Although Prop 87 went down to defeat in 2006, Bochco sees differences in the campaign this time around, given who is on offense in framing the issue.
“We are not saying, ‘Down with the oil companies.’ They are saying, ‘Down with our law.’?”
The political maneuvering is even greater over a pair of competing initiatives, Propositions 20 and 27, which would upend the way that California redraws state legislative boundaries.
In 2008, voters narrowly passed Prop 11, which took the task of drawing up the boundaries from politicians and into the hands of a citizens commission. Prop 20 would expand the commission’s authority to include congressional districts as well. But Prop 27 would repeal the citizens commission entirely, putting power back in the hands of lawmakers.
The whole issue is the subject of “Gerrymandering,” from director Jeff Reichert and producer Bill Mundell. Docu argues that because politicians are in charge of redistricting, they ensure job security by manipulating districts in bizarre shapes to maximize the pool of voters most likely to support them. The docu opens Oct. 15, but the campaign for Yes on 20/No on 27 is mailing hundreds of thousands of DVDs to voters across the state.
The efforts at redistricting reform, however, are opposed by many Democratic lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; one of the main arguments is that the commission would be less accountable than lawmakers. Oddly enough, they have garnered substantial support from one of the leading Hollywood political donors, Haim Saban, who gave $2 million to the No on 20/Yes on 27 effort. In 2008, however, he gave $200,000 in favor of the reform effort.
As crazy as the quilt of California’s initiative process can be, the effort to legalize marijuana is perhaps the easiest to understand — and certainly has garnered the most attention across the country, but not from Hollywood. The campaigns for and against Proposition 19 haven’t received nearly the support of other items on the ballot — less than $1 million.
Evan Nison, a spokesman for the Yes on 19 campaign, says such figures as Willie Nelson and Neil Young have expressed support, but there has been “nothing unexpected yet.”
“As of right now, there are few celebrities willing to come out.”