Tinseltown fills presidential candidates’ campaign coffers

Times Staff Writer

The entertainment industry, long a major lobbying force in Washington, has spent at least $6 million on the 2008 presidential campaign, the bulk of it going to Democrats.

In the first nine months of the year, a Los Angeles Times review of campaign finance reports showed, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois collected a combined $5 million. Republican presidential candidates appear to have taken in less than $1 million.

For the most part, public attention on Hollywood’s political giving focuses on events such as Oprah Winfrey’s fundraiser for Obama last month at her mansion in Montecito, or the summer gala that director Steven Spielberg and News Corp. President Peter Chernin held for Clinton.

Ideological donors such as Tom Hanks, Renee Zellweger and Barbra Streisand add glitter to the candidates’ campaigns. But many of the industry’s checks are written by media conglomerate executives.


“There are two different types of Hollywood money,” said campaign finance expert Larry Makinson. “The star money is being split between Clinton and Obama. But there is a whole other Hollywood. Their political fingerprint is a lot different.”

And the executives’ clout is considerable.

The entertainment industry -- specifically companies that produce movies, television and music -- spent $100 million on lobbying from January 2006 through June 2007, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

General Electric Co., for example, has spent $161 million on lobbying in the past decade, second only to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the center said.


GE has business interests in the defense and energy industries. But as owner of NBC Universal, it also has a significant lobbying presence on entertainment-related issues such as product piracy and copyright protection.

GE and NBC executives and employees have given $180,000 this year to presidential candidates, spread among Democrats and Republicans.

“If you don’t contribute, it is very hard to get your views” heard by politicians in Washington, said Dan Glickman, chairman of the Motion Picture Assn. of America. “It is not pay to buy a vote. . . . It is pay to have to access in the process.”

While there are notable conservatives in the industry, Hollywood money traditionally has leaned Democratic; two-thirds spent on federal races in 2006 went to Democrats, records show.

Rupert Murdoch -- who runs News Corp., which includes 20th Century Fox and the conservative-leaning Fox News operation -- has personally donated the maximum $4,600 to Clinton. The senator, Federal Election Commission filings show, has received at least $125,000 from News Corp.-related donors, while Obama has received more than $90,000. Republicans have received far less.

Whoever becomes president is sure to have sway over an array of issues that affect the industry. Export-related issues, access to overseas markets and Federal Communications Commission appointments are among the entertainment-related concerns.

The commissioners serving under the Bush administration, for example, have levied multimillion-dollar fines against broadcasters over questions of decency.

“We want to have an FCC that has great respect for the 1st Amendment,” Glickman said.


The exact amount the industry has given to the presidential contenders is difficult to determine.

In addition to direct donations, several entertainment figures have hosted fundraisers and bundled donations from other individuals -- often raising $1 million or more at a single event. Winfrey’s bash is said to have brought in $3 million for Obama, although such totals cannot be checked through public campaign finance filings.

The extent to which the top Democratic contenders rely on the industry is clear by the sums they raise in California. Clinton raked in $4.9 million of the $27 million she raised in the third quarter from the Golden State. Obama’s haul was $3.7 million.

Both candidates have a stable of stars backing them. Hanks, Ben Stiller, George Clooney and Jennifer Aniston have given to Obama.

Zellweger, Quincy Jones and Bette Midler have given to Clinton. Several have given to both. Streisand has given $2,300 apiece to Clinton, Obama and former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

Some donate because they want to support a candidate’s stand on the environment, abortion and women’s rights or peace-related causes.

Producer and director Rob Reiner, for instance, is a longtime advocate for universal preschool.

He gave $2,300 to Clinton in February, and has announced plans to honor her at a fundraiser later this month. On the campaign trail, Clinton cites the creation of a government-funded universal preschool system as one of her goals.


“I don’t believe most are giving because of their industry issues,” said Chad Griffin, a Los Angeles political consultant and former White House aide during Bill Clinton’s administration. “This donor industry is unique; they give because they have an issue.”