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Entertainment Heavyweights Out to Unseat 2 Incumbents : Politics: They've contributed $11,000 to a group that wants to build new City Council majority. Some have been 'hoodwinked,' says one of the targeted incumbents.

March 08, 1992|RON RUSSELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MALIBU — Call it grass-roots politics, Malibu-style.

Some of the most powerful figures in show business have contributed $11,000 to a group that wants to unseat two members of the City Council in the April election.

And at least one of the council members on the group's hit list has cried foul.

Councilman Mike Caggiano says that some of the dozen entertainment industry heavyweights who gave hefty sums to the Malibu Grassroots Movement have since told him they never intended their contributions to be used to try to unseat him and Councilwoman Missy Zeitsoff.

"My analysis is that at least some of these people were hoodwinked," Caggiano said.

The two council members have been targeted for defeat by the group, best known by the acronym MGM and headed by TV game show announcer Gene Wood. Since October, the group has raised $15,000, two-thirds of it from a veritable Who's Who of entertainment moguls.

The big contributors include H. Peter Guber, chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment; Robert Daly, chairman of Warner Studios; Jeffrey Katzenberg, chairman of the Walt Disney Co.; Morris Ostin, chairman of Warner Records; Terry Semel, president of Warner Film Productions; TV and film producer Robert Chartoff, and producer Jon Peters, each of whom contributed $1,000.

The biggest donor, TV and film producer Alan Landsburg, gave $2,500.

Among those who contributed $500 were David Geffen, chairman of Geffen Entertainment; Barry Diller, who recently stepped down as head of Fox Inc., and producer Irwin Winkler. Actor Burgess Meredith gave $250.

None of the executives could be reached for comment. A few were out of town, but most did not return phone calls.

The group is using its war chest to promote the candidacies of Councilwoman Carolyn Van Horn and two other contenders in the April 14 election, Joan House and Jeff Kramer.

The group was formed last September after a majority of the City Council--including Zeitsoff and Caggiano--voted to oust Walt Keller as mayor and appoint Councilman Larry Wan instead.

Its membership of about 200 has been sympathetic to Keller and Van Horn, while portraying the others as being sympathetic to development interests, something the majority vigorously disputes.

Backed largely by the largesse of the show business executives, the group has bought ads in Malibu's weekly newspapers as well as spots on local cable TV in its bid to unseat Caggiano and Zeitsoff and build support for a new council majority.

It has also paid for its own public opinion polling that, among other things, purports to establish favorable ratings for its opponents. One recent poll, for example, found both Mayor Wan and his wife, Sara, to be unpopular. Neither is a candidate.

In an interview, Caggiano said that four of the show business contributors had expressed embarrassment that their donations had placed them in the public spotlight.

"I don't think many of these people knew what they were giving to," he said. "I know one was so angry he said he was going to demand his money back."

Caggiano declined to say which contributors he had spoken with, saying that he had agreed to respect their privacy.

However, both Tom Hasse, Malibu Grassroots Movement's chief spokesman, and Wood insisted that none of the contributors had been misled. They said they knew of no one among the donors who did not remain committed to the group's main goal of revamping the City Council.

"We've been absolutely up front about what we wanted to do," said Wood, the off-camera voice of TV's "Family Feud" and other game shows. "We've not played any games."

Caggiano, meanwhile, acknowledged that NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield, a friend since childhood, had written letters on his behalf to several of the entertainment executives, vouching for his credentials as a slow-growth advocate.

Littlefield, who lives in Pacific Palisades, contributed $1,000 to Caggiano's 1990 election campaign.

MGM's entre to the cadre of entertainment moguls can be traced to Wood, who acknowledged having first approached Alan Landsburg about contributing to the group last September.

Wood said he and Landsburg have known each other since both were tour guides at NBC in New York 40 years ago. Wood said that Landsburg was among the first to respond to the group's ad in a local newspaper last year calling for a make-over of the City Council in the next election.

Asked if Landsburg had been instrumental in encouraging the other studio and entertainment chieftains to contribute, he replied, "I think you could call it a ripple effect, yes."

Malibu's Grass-Roots Givers The following are show business leaders who have donated money to the Malibu Grass Roots Movement--MGM for short--a group that aims to defeat incumbents Mike Caggiano and Missy Zeitsoff in a local City Council election.

CONTRIBUTOR POSITION AMOUNT Alan Landsburg TV and movie producer $2,500 H. Peter Guber chairman and CEO, Sony Pictures Entertainment $1,000 Jeffrey Katzenberg chairman, Walt Disney Co. $1,000 Robert Daly chairman and CEO, Warner Studios $1,000 Robert Chartoff TV and movie producer $1,000 Morris Ostin chairman, Warner Records $1,000 Terry Semel president, Warner Film Productions $1,000 Burgess Meredith actor $200

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