Using his entertainment contacts, Geffen raised $10 million for the Democratic Party during the last election cycle. At two private dinner parties held last year at his Malibu beachfront home, Geffen raised $1.7 million from among two dozen entertainment and business figures who had come to hear Clinton. The guest list included current MCA chief Edgar M. Bronfman Jr., producer Steve Tisch and record industry executive Jerry Moss.
But, says Andy Spahn, head of corporate affairs at DreamWorks, "In the short term, we have pulled back--certainly during the first six months of 1997.
"David raised a tremendous amount of money in the last [election] cycle, particularly for the president," Spahn said. "But his focus right now is on building DreamWorks SKG. He remains very active philanthropically. He just is not aggressively involved in political fund-raising right now. Perhaps as we move into 1998 and we begin to focus on the gubernatorial race we'll get active again."
Judith James, the producing partner of one of Hollywood's most politically active actors, Richard Dreyfuss, said fund-raising has become such a relentless pursuit that she understands why people, even rich Hollywood types, are turned off when constantly hit up for cash.
"I wouldn't be surprised if people are feeling their only value is access to money--and that is demeaning," James said.
USC political science professor Herbert E. Alexander, director of the Citizens' Research Foundation, which studies political financing, said he believes the era of the million-dollar fund-raising gala is not over but it could be harder to stage them with the women's committee now disbanding.
"I think it's going to be harder to have a fund-raiser [in Hollywood] but I don't think it's impossible," Alexander said. "Money is still needed. Parties will still be out seeking it. Candidates will still be out seeking it.
"There are a lot of wealthy people in Hollywood and maybe they can't all give $500,000 or whatever Geffen gives, but they can give $25,000 in the aggregate or $1,000 to a candidate," Alexander added, noting that some of the biggest contributors may "withdraw a bit" since large political contributions are now routinely scrutinized by the news media because of the current spate of fund-raising scandals.
Although the next round of elections is still a year away--and the next presidential election even further off--candidates are already trekking to Hollywood. This constant need to feed the election monster has created what political insiders now term "The Permanent Campaign."
From the days of the studio moguls, show business and presidential politics have been inextricably linked. Al Jolson drummed up support for Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. MGM's Louis B. Mayer cultivated Herbert Hoover's friendship. Movie barons Jack and Harry Warner organized a star-studded campaign pageant for Franklin D. Roosevelt. And Frank Sinatra became a fixture of John F. Kennedy's Camelot.
In his book about Hollywood and politics, "The Power and the Glitter" (Random House, 1992), author and Times National Political Correspondent Ronald Brownstein wrote that historically, the shared attraction of Hollywood and Washington could be reduced to a simple equation: "Celebrities looked to politicians to validate them as part of the company of serious men and women; politicians looked to celebrities to validate them as part of the company of the famous."
But in recent years, the Hollywood-Washington tango has become most of all a dance for money. The Hollywood Women's Political Committee, skilled at raising small sums from many contributors, felt increasingly outgunned in the face of escalating campaign costs. The new reality was that fewer and fewer politicians the committee supported accepted PAC money. And the political parties were going after big contributors who thought nothing of writing out checks for $100,000 at a pop.
The importance of money at the national level was never more impressed upon committee members than last fall, when the group agreed to co-host a fund-raiser for Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.
In the past, the committee had priced its presidential fund-raisers at $1,000 per person and $2,500 for a patron. That all changed with the Green Acres event, at which Streisand and Don Henley and the Eagles performed.
Sources close to the event said party fund-raisers put it to them bluntly: Either hike the ticket prices or Clinton would not be delivered.
"They felt we had undercharged," recalled one source who helped organize the event. "They kept saying, 'You're leaving money on the table.' What is so sick about it is we represented the little people in town. To the rest of the country, this was a lot of money, but there were a lot of people who didn't go because of the ticket prices."