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Is There a Chill in the Air?

COVER STORY

The Democrats' obsession with fund-raising pushed the Hollywood Women's Political Committee over the edge. What does its demise say about the entertainment industry's relationship with politics?

June 22, 1997|Robert W. Welkos | Robert W. Welkos is a Times staff writer

Vice President Al Gore has strong ties to Hollywood with John F. Cooke, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Disney, one of his key supporters in the entertainment community. Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), a possible rival to Gore for the Democratic presidential nomination, attended a recent fund-raiser at the home of director Rob Reiner.

Boxer, meanwhile, is holding a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser ($5,000 for a smaller, more exclusive dinner) Monday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel that Clinton is expected to attend.

Other senators who have made recent fund-raising stops are Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who attended a fund-raiser at the home of Disney's Cooke and John Kerry (D-Mass.), who had a fund-raiser at the home of former Columbia / TriStar Pictures chief Mark Canton and his wife, Wendy Finerman, a producer of the film "Forrest Gump."

Even Republicans are getting into the act. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) was recently feted at a $500-a-person reception co-hosted by Spielberg at DreamWorks. Specter had sought the fund-raiser after the influential subcommittee chairman championed a $1-million appropriation for the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which Spielberg created to document the histories of Holocaust victims.

Other out-of-town candidates who have made or will make fund-raising forays into Hollywood are Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is likely to run for governor of Massachusetts, and Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Ted Mondale, the 39-year-old son of former Vice President Walter Mondale.

Clinton himself maintains his popularity with a wide segment of Hollywood, with Streisand a key backer. Kevin Costner changed his party registration last fall from Republican to "decline to state" after becoming a Clinton supporter.

It is still too early to see what impact the current disenchantment with campaign politics will have on Hollywood's participation in the 1998 elections and beyond.

Some believe the political activism that energized the Hollywood Women's Political Committee will transfer itself to an issue-oriented group, whatever that might be.

The entertainment community is awash in such groups from environmental organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Media Assn. and American Oceans Campaign to organizations with other targeted interests such as Artists for a New South Africa, the Coalition for Free Expression, the L.A. chapter of Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, Death Penalty Focus and Human Rights Watch.

Two other influential groups that deal with issues of the day and mobilize support for various causes are the Creative Coalition, headed by actor Alec Baldwin, and the Hollywood Policy Center.

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But aside from the major corporations that run today's movie, television and recording empires, nothing else quite mirrors the Hollywood Women's Political Committee. And with the committee's sudden demise, many are wondering if something else would rise to take its place.

"It's a whole new world," said David Horowitz, president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture and a frequent critic of what he sees as Hollywood's blind loyalty to liberalism.

"The Republicans won [Congress] twice, Clinton is going up in flames, the whole country has shifted and the Hollywood Women's Political Committee committed suicide in protest," Horowitz said with a laugh.

However, some members say they have no plans to retreat.

"I can understand why people get discouraged," said Adena Smith. "But I know that within my circle of friends, both inside and outside the organization, we still feel like there are many wonderful things to be done."

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