At billionaire David Geffen's Malibu beachfront home, two quiet dinner parties were conducted early this election year for a select group and a very special guest of honor: Bill Clinton.
Joining the president for duck, caviar and conversation were about two dozen figures from the worlds of entertainment and business, including MCA chieftain Edgar M. Bronfman Jr., film producer Steve Tisch and recording industry executive Jerry Moss.
Then, in the weeks after his gatherings in February and March, Geffen worked his fund-raising magic. Many guests wound up contributing $50,000 to $100,000 to the Democratic Party.
But this $1.7 million, raised so swiftly and from so few, represents only a fraction of the campaign funds emanating each election cycle from Hollywood.
The Southern California-based entertainment industry has contributed at least $23.5 million to the major political parties, political action committees and candidates running for federal office since 1991, according to a Times analysis of federal election records.
The biggest contributors range from studio chiefs, producers and movie stars to the widow of a rock musician and the producer of the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" television show. And their donations reach into virtually every state, flowing into political parties and congressional races from New England to Hawaii.
The contributions by Hollywood reveal the political leanings of people who help shape American popular culture and who are some of the most famous personalities in the world. The donations also show the financial clout and corporate agenda of an industry that fuels the regional economy.
The pattern buttresses the public perception that the industry is dominated by one political party. Hollywood has provided nearly 10 times more money to the Democratic National Committee than to its GOP counterpart, seven times more to Clinton's reelection campaign to date than to Republican challenger Bob Dole--and more than $1 million to California's Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.
But for the first time in years, Hollywood's corporate political action committees now favor Republicans. Amid massive mergers and sustained attacks over programming content, the PACs have given the GOP 62% more than Democrats since Republicans took control of Congress two years ago.
"Part of Hollywood gives according to its heart and personal inclination, but clearly the industry gives according to its [business] interests," said USC professor Herbert Alexander, director of the Citizens' Research Foundation for the study of campaign financing. "The business PAC contributions follow where the power is and where the necessity is for access."
Hollywood, with its concentration of wealthy, famous and politically attuned people, has been an important source of campaign funds since the days of the studio moguls.
Now, as the national elections approach, candidates are again converging on the town, hoping to fill their campaign war chests with checks from galas at Beverly Hills estates to small cocktail parties.
From 1995 through June 30, Hollywood gave more than $6.3 million to candidates, parties and PACs--a total expected, by the end of the election season, to rise above the $10 million collected four years ago.
With California playing a crucial role in the presidential race, Clinton has made more than two dozen trips to the state--and a number of fund-raising forays into the entertainment world.
Despite its high visibility, the scope of entertainment industry donations has remained elusive, hidden for the most part within millions of campaign records.
For this article, a media consulting company--Campaign Study Group of Springfield, Va.--examined contributions by the political action committees of major companies and thousands of individual donations.
Although not comparable, a recent Federal Election Commission study puts giving by Hollywood in some perspective. The FEC found that wealthy individuals and corporations from all industries have contributed a total of $154.2 million to both major parties this election cycle. Another study found that lawyers have given $5.4 million to Clinton and Dole.
One of the most striking features of Hollywood donations is the collective power of this relatively small creative community:
Actors and actresses gave $1.85 million while the music industry provided $1.1 million in the last 5 1/2 years. Among the top givers were Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, rock musician Don Henley and jazz musician Lionel Hampton.
While male studio executives remain the largest givers, women account for a third of the top 100 contributors identified by The Times' study. One of Hollywood's most powerful political action committees is run by and for women.
And, although the six major studios and their employees contributed $6.7 million, a new multimedia enterprise has emerged as a powerful political player in the last two years. . . .
The Political Dream Team