As the candidates to succeed California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger launched their campaigns in earnest on Wednesday, Hollywood’s stake in the rough-and-tumble race is becoming ever clearer: Money and jobs.
Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman already have held industry-centric fund-raising events, but the pressure will be even greater on Brown to raise substantial sums as Whitman proved her willingness during the primary to pour a reported $71 million of her own money into her campaign.
Brown so far has dominated Hollywood fund-raising, which is not surprising given the traditional Democratic bent of the industry, with recent contributors including Ben Silverman and Robert Iger. But he also has tapped longtime support, even dating back to his tenure as governor from 1975 to 1983. An early endorsement last September from Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen helped put into relief the troubles that his then-rival Gavin Newsomwas having in raising money. Newsom eventually withdrew from the race.
Brown also has also sought to tap into young Hollywood, having held a couple of events with the group Generation for Change, an outgrowth of the group of industry professionals who organized to back Barack Obama in 2008. The most recent event at Drai’s on Hollywood Boulevard featured a performance by Tony Beliveau of Crash Kings, with the crowd dominated by many too young or not even born during his stint in the state’s highest office.
Aware that his return inspires flashbacks to the freewheeling days of “Governor Moonbeam,” a nickname repeated night after night by Johnny Carson in his monologues, Brown has been trying to turn that derisive term into a positive in an environment where voters are frustrated with the establishment.
“I have a record of going against the tide,” Brown said at a press conference in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday morning. “They didn’t call me Governor Moonbeam for nothing.”
According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, as of mid-March Brown raised $329,750 from movie and TV sources to Whitman’s $45,350, although those figures would be challenged as too low by industry fund-raisers, as attorneys and others in Hollywood fall into other categories.
But Brown’s ability to capture a majority of well-known entertainment donors is apparent with a scroll through contribution reports.
Political consultant Donna Bojarsky said that part of his appeal in the industry comes from the fact that he is “quintessentially Californian, and that is something a lot of people in the creative industries are attracted to.”
“His experience also is a big plus,” she said. “You have got to stop and think, ‘He knows what he is doing.’ We are sending someone in who actually understands the job.”
Whitman, who held at April fund-raiser at the Beverly Hilton that featured entertainment from David Foster, has ties to the industry by virtue of her stewardship of eBay, as well as a stint as a marketing and consumer products exec at Disney from 1989 to 1992.
Among those raising money for her are Terry Semel and Harry Sloan, both of whom are on her finance committee, and she has received contributions from long time Democrats like Haim Saban (who also has given to Brown). But it remains to be seen whether her support will extend more deeply across Hollywood’s party lines.
Director-writer Lionel Chetwynd predicted that Whitman’s economic message and moderate stances on many social issues will appeal to showbiz. “She should do very, very well, probably better than anyone’s done in a very long time,” he said.
Nevertheless, the fact that she has poured so much of her own fortune into the race may cause donors to assume she already has the resources and does not need the cash.
“Why does she need to?” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior fellow for the School of Policy, Planning and Development at the University of Southern California. “It is not quite the critical question for her as it has been for other Republicans.”
By contrast, Brown’s lack of spending so far has been so pronounced as to cause worry among some of his supporters, particularly when it comes to getting on the air. The gap in airtime will filled in part by Democratic-friendly independent expenditure committees, but Brown’s spokesman signaled that it still would be some time before Brown spots hit the airwaves, which can quickly drain campaign coffers, even the $21 million he has on hand. “It takes great discipline,” said political consultant Andy Spahn, noting that some Democrats became nervous as Brown remained all but silent while Republicans grabbed headlines.
Brown made a stab at boosting visibility cheaply on Wednesday when he proposed that Whitman participate in 10 “town hall” forums. Whitman countered by calling on Brown to “lay out a plan for California,” noting that she already has released a 48-page policy book that details her proposals.
Brown has not laid out a plan yet for one of the pet issues to Hollywood, runaway production, one that is bound to be at the forefront to the rank-and-file as the campaigns focus on job creation. Although California recently launched an incentive program, producers say that it is not enough to compete with more lucrative offers from other states.
Whitman’s campaign has said that she will pursue a series of “targeted tax cuts” in areas such as catering, set construction, equipment leasing, as well as for makeup artists and writers.
Runaway production will be competing among a host of issues to draw the candidates’ attention, particularly with California in such a state of crisis. But it could be a factor if it is framed in the larger context of the economy. “Runaway production is a term that means nothing to most people, but if I were advising the industry on how to make this more visible, I would talk of it in terms of job loss,” said attorney and longtime Democratic strategist Darry Sragow.
Strangely enough, the one person who may not even factor in the race is Schwarzenegger. There’s a question of who or if he will endorse a candidate, but also just whether that nod will mean much given his low approval numbers.
Whitman already found herself the target of an ad attack by Republican rival Steve Poizner in which the governator morphs into her. Brown has taken some mild jabs at Schwarzenegger in making the case against Whitman, with the implied message: “We’ve tried that before.”
In an interview on “Nightline” Wednesday, Schwarzengger took his unpopularity in stride. “I understand the mood,” he said. “I don’t blame the people for being upset.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.