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Studio Chief Is DNC's Secret Weapon

Warner Bros.' Horn Uses His Clout Behind the Scenes to Raise Money

August 16, 2000|CLAUDIA ELLER and JAMES BATES

Alan Horn doesn't line his Warner Bros. office shelves with framed photos of himself with Bill Clinton, Al Gore or other top political figures.

But he certainly could. The studio president plays an increasingly important role in Hollywood's Democratic fund-raising circles. Horn's lack of affectation sets him apart, just as it keeps him below the radar. Few people outside the inner circle of the Democratic National Committee realize the rising influence of Horn, 57, and his politically active wife, Cindy, a Gore delegate.

It's not that they've raised the most money. Their tally falls way short of the huge sums the DreamWorks SKG partners have mustered.

It's that, as head of one of Hollywood's few major movie studios, Horn has access to the checkbooks of rich celebrities and industry heavyweights. He uses his clout cautiously, walking a fine line between his political activism and the corporate constraints of parent company Time Warner Inc. and its soon-to-be owner, America Online Inc.

Unlike other Hollywood couples, the Horns haven't spent the night in the White House, nor have they shared their breakfast cereals with the first family after hosting a sleepover. Their names are rarely, if ever, mentioned in the same breath as billionaire activist David Geffen and his DreamWorks partners, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, who have been ground zero for Democratic fund-raising in recent years.

Nonetheless, Horn and his wife have become important links to the industry for the Gore campaign, Hillary Rodham Clinton's New York Senate bid and environmental causes.

The Horns have hosted fund-raisers at their Bel-Air home for Gore's presidential bid as well as Clinton's Senate campaign. The Horns have also chaired and co-hosted a number of other fund-raisers, including a dinner honoring Gore and his wife, Tipper, as well as another this fall at the home of director Rob Reiner, where he expects to raise more than $1 million.

Of the people running Hollywood's major movie studios, Horn is among the most politically active. He and his wife have now joined the club of Hollywood heavyweights, such as the DreamWorks trio, Lew and Edith Wasserman and Seagram Co. scion Edgar Bronfman Jr., who contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.

And although much of that club has been joined at the hip to President Clinton, the Horns can now be counted as among the first Friends of Al.

Other Hollywood Democrats quietly fume about Gore's newly chosen running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, an outspoken critic of the entertainment industry for serving up a heavy diet of sex and violence. Horn, on the other hand, is delighted.

"Of course I believe in the 1st Amendment and creative freedom, but how can anyone argue with a guy who advocates social responsibility?" said Horn, who vows not to green-light movies with gratuitous sex or violence.

"I am a father of two young children, and it's certainly a factor in my decision-making process," said Horn, who has two daughters, Cody, 12, and Cassidy, 10. "There are some lines I won't cross in the pursuit of dollar bills. I'm sure I wouldn't have made 'Natural Born Killers,' " a graphically violent film that Warner Bros. financed and released, "even though I really like and respect [director] Oliver Stone and think he's brilliant."

In the world of political fund-raising, Horn believes that Republicans have an easier go of it because traditional big business, which benefits more from conservative administrations, "has always found it in their own self-interest to give money."

That said, added Horn, Democrats have been able to tap predominantly liberal Hollywood, a relatively small community that offers quick access to huge dollars and unmatched media attention through celebrity power.

"This is a place where Democratic candidates can come to raise a lot of money relatively easily because people are understanding and supportive of them on the issues and have the money to write the checks," he said.

The competition for those Hollywood dollars can be fierce. Some Democrats are riled that convention week fund-raising events for the Clintons--his library and her Senate campaign--will siphon badly needed funds from Gore.

"I noticed a number of events not all directed at the presidential bid, but I don't feel any cynicism about it. We're going to concentrate our efforts on the presidential race and, secondly, on Hillary and not the president's library in Arkansas," Horn said.

If there is any trend in Hollywood fund-raising today, Horn observed, "It's an increasing recognition that in order to raise the kind of money necessary to run these races, the base of support needs to be broadened." Horn added that although young Hollywood "may not be able to write $25,000 or $50,000 checks, they're smart, active, informed and need to be brought into the process as early as possible because they'll play an increasingly important role as they grow in our business."

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