Democrats applaud Hollywood's money

Funds: Republicans say the White House is too cozy with the entertainment industry and should not accept its contributions.

May 15, 1999|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In a hilltop Beverly Hills mansion tonight, under the long shadow of Littleton, Colo., President Clinton will rub shoulders and reach deeply into the pockets of Hollywood's elite, disregarding Republican accusations that the Democratic Party has become too cozy with the entertainment industry to condemn the violent content of its products.

The fund-raiser -- sponsored by film director Steven Spielberg, producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and recording mogul David Geffen -- is expected to raise nearly $2 million for the Democrats. And it comes at a particularly sensitive time.

Just five days ago, entertainment executives gathered at the White House with gun manufacturers, child development experts and teen-agers for a summit on youth violence.

After the meeting, some Republicans challenged Clinton to renounce Hollywood money.

Big donations from the entertainment industry, Republicans asserted, had deprived the Democrats of the will to goad their political allies into cleaning up films, television and music.

Democrats deny the assertion, calling it pure partisan politics.

They also point to the funding sources for many Republican campaigns -- such as the tobacco and gun industries -- that Democrats find objectionable.

Unlike tobacco, most of Hollywood's products are harmless or even edifying, House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt said. The few noxious productions should not tar the entire industry.

"There are lots of people that probably produce products that are dangerous in the automobile industry," Gephardt said.

"That doesn't mean you don't take contributions from the automobile industry."

And Democrats boldly say they will continue to lure the most glittering names possible to their Hollywood fund-raisers.

After all, that's how you make money.

"Our goals are narrow," said one party official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "To have the most successful fund-raiser in Los Angeles possible."

From the beginning of his administration, Clinton has clearly enjoyed hobnobbing with his Hollywood friends, and the feeling has been mutual.

"There's nothing like a motorcade racing through Beverly Hills to get hearts pumping" in Hollywood, said Jim Margolis, a Democratic campaign strategist with ties to the industry.

The entertainment industry is nowhere close to being the largest Democratic campaign contributor.

Of the $79.4 million of unrestricted "soft money" raised by Democrats in the 1997-1998 campaign cycle, $3.9 million came from entertainment and media sources, according to the nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause.

That was considerably less than the sum raised from labor unions, lawyers and lobbyists, Wall Street investment firms or the real estate industry.

In his quest for cash for his 2000 White House bid, Vice President Al Gore raised nearly $9 million in the first quarter of 1999.

Of that, $272,700 came from the television, film and music industries, the fifth-largest industry sector, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Soft money donations

Entertainment conglomerates also donated $35,000 in soft money to the Democrats this spring, far less than the $67,350 they gave to Republicans. (In previous years, though, they have given more to Democrats.)

Their largest soft-money contribution of the year went to the Republicans, a $25,020 check from New Amsterdam Theatre Enterprises, a Disney-affiliated production company that produced such violent horror films as "Pet Sematary" and the TV miniseries "The Stand."

Still, Hollywood money is "tremendously important" to the Democrats, especially in the campaign stretch when candidate coffers begin to run dry, Margolis said.

"It represents a place where, in relatively short order, substantial amounts of money can be raised," he said.

For sheer star power, the Democratic donor list puts the Republicans to shame, with most of those glittering names in Gore's camp.

Celebrities and moguls

So far this year, Gore has cashed checks from Michael Douglas, Jack Nicholson, Lou Diamond Phillips, Candice Bergen, David Caruso, Suzanne Somers, Mary Steenburgen, Rob Reiner, Richard Dreyfuss, Dennis Miller, Barbra Streisand, Sheryl Crow, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and the kin of Frank Zappa, including Diva, Gail and Dweezil.

Aside from the celebrities, contributions have come from moguls and industry officials such as Norman Lear, Sumner Redstone, Sherry Lansing and Jack Valenti, as well as Geffen, Spielberg and Katzenberg. Douglas also tossed in $10,000 in soft money for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Tonight's gala will have all the glamour of an opening at Mann's Chinese Theater. Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli will be serenading the president at Greystone mansion, alongside Meg Ryan, Dennis Quaid, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell and Whoopi Goldberg.

Tickets were priced at up to $100,000 a couple.

But last month's shootings in Colorado have cast something of a pall on all the glitz.

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