Accessibility links

Political Candidates Turn Sights on California's Entertainment Industry for Support

In this U.S. election year, politicians are turning to the entertainment business for support and contributions.

Hollywood is, above all, a source of campaign funds for politicians, who need large amounts of cash to buy television ads to reach the voters. Many here can afford to give at the $2,000 limit to individual candidates, and some can afford larger contributions to the political parties.

In addition, the state of California's political influence cannot be underestimated. It's a vital win for presidential candidates because it is the U.S. state with the largest population and has 55 electoral votes.

The expected Democratic nominee, John Kerry, will hold a fundraising dinner in Los Angeles, at $2,000 a plate, March 30. Many Hollywood personalities plan to be there. President Bush recently raised $800,000 dollars at a Los Angeles dinner, which included some Hollywood donors.

Peter Kiefer covers politics for the Hollywood Reporter, an entertainment industry publication. He says the industry has many high-profile Democrats, including some studio moguls.

"Behind the scenes, there are the executives at DreamWorks, Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen, and Steven Spielberg are stalwart Democrat supporters, many of whom were close to Clinton during his two terms," he said.

Other prominent Hollywood Democrats are producer Steven Bing, and Haim Saban, the Egyptian-born investor who made his fortune in children's entertainment.

On the creative side, actor Martin Sheen, actor-director Rob Reiner and singer Barbra Streisand are outspoken Democrats.

Donna Bojarsky is a Democratic consultant who works with a number of Hollywood stars, including Richard Dreyfuss. She says their financial support is important to candidates.

"And also their visibility," she added. "People in this country are interested in what people of note and people of celebrity have to say. And it can bring excitement and dynamism and good entertainment at events and at rallies.

"They can really can roil a crowd," continued Ms. Bojarsky. "So there are a number of ways they participate, and I suspected, as they've done in previous campaigns, they'll certainly do that in this one."

Many in Hollywood are Democrats, but some are some Republicans, including Jerrold Perenchio, the head of the Spanish-language television network Univision.

The Hollywood Reporter's Peter Kiefer says some heads of Hollywood studios also help Republicans.

"It's just seen that Republicans tend to be more business-friendly," said Mr. Kiefer. "So regardless of a CEO's political leanings, it may be in his best interest for the good of his company to support the Republicans on some sort of a business policy issue."

Republican strategist Allan Hoffenblum says Hollywood Democrats are outspoken and visible, but they are not the whole Hollywood story.

"You'll hear about Richard Dreyfuss," he said. "You hear about Barbra Streisand and a whole group that tend to have a very liberal outlook. But what's interesting here in California, there have been three Hollywood celebrities or Hollywood movie stars who have held high position in California politics."

All three were Republicans. First, George Murphy, an actor and dancer from the 1940s and 1950s, became a U.S. senator in 1964.

"Then up until recently, the most famous was Ronald Reagan, who twice became governor of California and was twice elected president of the United States," reminded Mr. Hoffenblum. "And since last October, Arnold Schwarzenegger."

The Republican action star became California governor late last year.

The only Hollywood Democrat to hold major political office was Helen Gahagan Douglas, a former actress who served three terms in the U.S. congress. She lost a Senate race to California congressman Richard Nixon in 1950.

This year, John Kerry is the presumed Democratic nominee, and Donna Bojarsky says Hollywood Democrats are ready to help him.

"When the nominee comes here, I think he'll be welcomed with open arms and people will be very anxious in this community to defeat George Bush," she said. "So I think they will give their money, time, resources, and ideas to try to do that."

Aides to Arnold Schwarzenegger say the California governor plans to campaign for President Bush, adding some Hollywood glitter to the Republican side of the race.