When they welcomed Kennedy to Bergman's Beverly Hills living room at the end of the last election cycle, a leader of the committee challenged the senator. Is he drifting from the left to the soft center of politics? The reference was to a watershed speech he made at Hofstra University two years earlier. In the address, Kennedy gave fellow Democrats the backside of his glove for growing too dependent on big spending and special constituencies, women, minorities and labor.
Kennedy's meeting with the Hollywood Women's Political Committee was closed, but his reaction was recalled by several who attended. "He looked at them like they were from outer space," one said.
Recently, committee members sought out Kennedy to assure him, in the words of one, that "it was a case of us being hardest on our own. Kennedy is the single best leader on issues that are of importance to us, so we may have been pushing him a little."
Still, the evening helped establish among political professionals the committee's reputation as not only powerful and fervent but slightly unpredictable.
At a private weekend retreat to Santa Barbara earlier this year, the committee sharpened its agenda for the 1988 elections to three main concerns: (1) opposition to Reagan Administration activism toward Central America and its lack of activism toward South Africa, (2) opposition to the Reagan Administration's space-based Strategic Defense Initiative and, oddly enough for a group whose power is measured by the money it can raise, (3) support for wholesale campaign finance reform to curb the influence of special interests.
Almost immediately, another U.S. senator felt the committee's bite. This time, it occurred in public for everyone to see.
The target was Bill Bradley of New Jersey, a cerebral nouveau Democrat who was in Hollywood last month to raise money for his political committee and an early tryout for the 1992 presidential race. The $1,500-a-couple event for 200 was hosted by important industry figures Michael D. Eisner, chairman of Disney, and Michael Ovitz, the super-agent of Creative Artists Agency.
On the day Bradley arrived, the Hollywood women's committee purchased a $1,350 full-page advertisement in Variety warning Hollywood liberals that the senator had voted last year to provide U.S. financial assistance to the Nicaraguan rebels.
"When a senator from the East Coast comes to California to raise money from our community, then this becomes a community issue, and one we feel we must speak out about," the committee said in a prepared statement. "We hope Sen. Bradley will change his position."
"\o7 Seppuku\f7 !" Ritual suicide. That's how a dissenting veteran of Southern California's chic fund-raising circuit described the Democrats thrashing one of their own in public. Others in the patio politics scene joined in the denunciation under the protection of anonymity.
"They are demanding absolute purity. Dammit, there isn't absolute purity in politics," said one of the state's most important Democratic peacemakers. "They are going to self-destruct if they keep this up. They are going to make more trouble than even their money is worth."
Even critics acknowledged, however, that the Variety ad showed the kind of flair worthy of appreciative reviews in Hollywood. "If their goal was to be felt in their own community, they were," said one confidant of Bradley. "If their goal was to become part of the broader political community, it wasn't very smart."
Interviewed recently, six committee leaders said the advertisement was a smashing success.
"What it did, respectfully, was to make it the subject of the evening," Bergman said. "Are we going to bother taking out an ad and trying to influence (North Carolina Republican Sen.) Jesse Helms? Obviously, if we're going to try and influence somebody, it has to be somebody with whom we have leverage and somebody with whom we agree on probably everything else--so that maybe he would care and would listen if we raised our voices."
Bradley told Hollywood what he tells his constituents: It was a tough call to support the \o7 contras\f7 , and he will watch developments in Nicaragua closely.
"One of the nice things about groups is that they don't have to run for office and they can be true to their causes," said California Democratic political consultant Kam Kuwata, an admirer of what he calls "this gutsy group."
Committee leaders fret, however, that the attention drawn to the sparks generated by their encounter with Kennedy and Bradley will stigmatize them as overbearing. Which is only sometimes the case. Other times, their private meetings and interviews with candidates are described by participants as intellectually stimulating, up-until-dawn political jam sessions the likes of which have not been seen much around Hollywood since gas was 50 cents a gallon. The committee is "so jazzed" that it plans to open some of its functions to the public, perhaps by staging community forums.