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Noshing in the Upper Stratosphere

August 15, 2000|SHAWN HUBLER

Bill Clinton had been around for breakfast and lunch and would be around again after dinner. The speaker of the Assembly had turned up twice in the course of two gigs. At the Beverly Hills mansion of the Franklin Mint's owner, Sen. Dianne Feinstein stood in the marble-floored foyer, planting a smooch on Nancy Sinatra's cheek.

Kathleen Connell, the state controller, was shaking hands under a wall-sized gilt mirror. In the garden, California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer was wearing a badge, joking that you never knew when some valet needed discouragement from messing with your car. All around, philanthropists talked--now of society, now of vacations. (Wouldn't it be something when "the steel went up" at the new UCLA Medical Center? Which was better--that boat Michael Ovitz had just chartered or an archeological dig in Albania?) Someone carped that parking at that $25,000-a-couple fund-raiser in Mandeville Canyon "was a holy mess."

So it went on the party circuit with the private citizen most publicly associated with delivering the Democratic National Convention, in that seldom-seen stratum where the elected consort with the rich. Eli Broad, on a whim, had agreed to go party hopping--on the record--with a reporter. This was novel. This was political science. This was some serious hors d'oeuvres eating. People in Broad's world view reporters as the hired help of the media mogul in the next mansion. Security tends to get called when the press shows up at their functions. This was a chance, in this year of big money, to get up close and personal with it.

In its natural habitat, though, big money turns out to be almost an abstraction. It impresses only in the sense that all big things impress. There's the bigness, but beyond that, big money is only part of the story.

"If it's all about money," Hollywood producer Mike Medavoy mused at the Feinstein party. "I don't know what people think they're getting for it. It can't be just access." After all, how much more access could these people get?

Between parties, Broad talked about big contributions. "A million one-twenty-five" of his own money was what he figured he'd sunk into the landing of the Democratic National Convention, maybe another $250,000 so far in hard and soft money for various candidates this year. He'd been invited, as of this day, Sunday, to 340 convention parties. Sunday's schedule had 10 pit stops between breakfast and midnight. He'd dined with the president on Friday in a back room at Spago with the governor and mayor and corporate friends--the Ed Roskis, the Gary Winnicks. "Jesse Jackson dropped by," Broad said.

He'd seen the president again this Sunday morning before taking in a panel discussion. Lunch was a DNC thing. Then home to hook up with his party guest.

In the back seat of a black BMW, Broad--gray hair neat, tie straight, conservative blazer--glanced at his party schedule for 4 p.m. Incredibly, Clinton again--this time at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee reception. Outside on the sidewalk, anti-Zionist protesters were chanting about Israeli "blood money." They were scattered and sweaty. Broad noted approvingly that they were "behaving." "This is as close as I've been so far to demonstrators," the billionaire said.

Inside, he was accosted every few seconds. Politicians rushed to hail him, pumped his hand. Some actually bowed. One sort of petted his arm. Someone pressed a little "VIP" dot onto his lapel and he made for the spot where Clinton was to speak, only to have an event staffer rush up to bleat there would be "no press in the VIP area." Broad looked annoyed, then gauged the heat, which shimmered up from the back lot like summer in the Sahara.

Time to split. "We love the president and Hillary," he explained, "but how many times do you need to see a person in one day? I'm not going to stand in the sun for an hour."


Some parties weren't really parties, but venues for broaching issues. At the Beverly Renaissance, the head of the Democratic Leadership Council went into the corner for a few private moments with Broad. Lobbyists swarmed the patio. An aide ran up to stammer, "Uh. No press." Later, Broad said he liked the DLC position on K-12 education, though he had yet to contribute.

"People think you give and then you sit down in these situations and make some kind of deal," he sighed, back in the chauffeured BMW. "It just doesn't work that way."

Other parties were civic duties. Downtown, Wells Fargo was having a meet-and-greet for officials and delegates. Broad strolled up to Willie Brown, just as Brown was delivering some punch line (". . . contributed all that money, don't even get the damn sky box!"). By dusk, it was onward, as Broad joined his wife at the home of Beverly Hills philanthropists Stewart and Lynda Resnick. The house looked like the Italian Embassy.

Feinstein greeted friends under Venetian chandeliers from the 1930s. Amid the small talk, there was also, unexpectedly, big talk, about medicine and culture. Then Broad was off again, this time to a function that--really--was closed: Dessert with the Clintons. Unfortunately, they were late as usual and Broad was too pooped to party: "I left before the president got there," he said. "'It was ten o'clock!"

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