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As Candidates Raise Cash, What Does Hollywood Want in Return?

Candidates already have collected millions from Hollywood for 2012 races, but what does show biz expect in return? The industry’s donor class has traditionally been divided between corporate interests and the creative class. The latter takes it almost as a source of pride that their motives are about the common good, even if the reality is a bit more complex. With a major piece of anti-piracy legislation on the horizon, however, the D.C. lobby is starting to say its time for entertainment to more brazenly show more of its own self interest.

That’s my latest column in the print version of Variety, which you can read below:

Jc-polls_VERTAs the political bonanza of 2012 edges closer, just about every week sees a major candidate coming to Hollywood, anxious to suck up campaign cash. And more than likely, when that candidate faces the wants of savvy donors, there’s one topic unlikely to be broached.

Showbiz itself.

It’s almost become a source of pride among fundraisers in the left-leaning business that what motivates most Hollywood donors aren’t policy favors, but rather to have the pol champion their values and causes — causes that can be both popular and quixotic.

The notion that self interest is not front and center is also apparent as the Obama administration pitches the Buffett rule — the idea that the well-to-do will accept higher taxation in the name of the public good.

But the reality of Hollywood giving is more complex — and there’s actually increasing pressure on those in the creative community to be much more mindful of showbiz issues, particularly as a major piece of anti-piracy legislation works its way through Congress and the business grapples with further ways to protect its content.

“While the industry gets involved in causes that are about domestic issues — the environment, jobs, foreign policy — there has been reluctance on the part of the industry to talk about itself, to talk about its needs,” MPAA chairman Chris Dodd says, adding that when he was in the Senate, “I never felt offended when I spoke to some industry and they wanted to tell me what their point of view was. I respected that. They had every right to do so. I think we need to get the (entertainment) industry to step up and do more of that.”

Shortly after he joined the MPAA in March, Dodd told Variety that in his 30 years as a senator, which involved many treks to Los Angeles for fundraisers, he could not recall a single occasion where anyone bothered to educate him or bring up an industry issue. He stressed that he was not critical of the way that showbiz donors give — mindful of worldy causes — but is hoping that in the midst of conversations with candidates, time is taken out to talk about issues like protection of copyrighted material on the Internet.

“That has to become standard operating procedure,” he said.

Complicating this is the structure of the industry: Hollywood is heavy in independent contractors, a contrast to other company towns like Detroit, where the alignment of business interests is front and center.

By and large, showbiz fundraising is separated between the corporate level, where industry trade associations and corporate PACs generally give to both parties; and individuals on the creative side, making up a much bigger base of donors, which tends to get the lion’s share of the attention from candidates and the media.

The division between business interests and individual values is not new, but it became more pronounced in the post-Vietnam era of social activism, as industry figures organized around particular causes and the candidates.

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