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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

Former Pols Move From Inside the Beltway to Hollywood Insiders

Onetime government workers who trade in Washington for entertainment jobs find it is sometimes easier to accomplish goals with star, not purely political, power.

August 17, 2000|AMY WALLACE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They used to work in the White House or on Capitol Hill. They used to plan President Clinton's travel schedules, field queries about him from the press or raise money for his campaigns. One worked for the Department of Education, another for HUD.

But now these former Washington pols toil in Hollywood--way, way outside the Beltway. And during the Democratic National Convention, their two worlds have collided.

"This week could not be busier," said Chad Griffin, a former White House press aide who runs the Reiner Foundation, actor-director Rob Reiner's pro-children charity. Over the last four days, Reiner threw a party for House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, spoke to the California delegation, hosted an event with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and stopped in at the convention itself. Griffin was always at his side.

Much has been written about the Washington-Hollywood connection, but Griffin and others like him have quietly left one power center to for another. Don't look for them in screenwriting workshops or hammering out first-look deals at the Peninsula Hotel bar. They work for talent agencies and producers and studios, but they're not making movies--they have jobs that keep their movie-minded companies involved in political and social issues. And unlike in Washington, they say, here they can get things done.

CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday August 18, 2000 Home Edition Special Section Part U Page 3 National Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Agency partner--CAA managing director and partner Bryan Lourd was pictured with Wendy Smith in a photograph in Thursday's Convention 2000 section. The wrong identification appeared in the caption.

There's Rica Rodman, once of the White House press office, who now directs Norman Lear's Lear Family Foundation. Laura Hartigan, former finance director for the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign, works for Haim Saban, the chief executive of Fox Family Worldwide who is the entertainment industry's largest individual contributor to the Democratic Party. Andy Spahn, a onetime community organizer who was national finance director for Gary Hart's 1984 presidential bid, handles corporate relations and political outreach for DreamWorks SKG. Wendy Greuel, once a staffer for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, does government affairs for the studio.

Then there are Wendy Smith, Clinton's former trip director, and Morgan Binswanger, a former chief of staff in the Department of Education. They work at Creative Artists Agency--Smith as director of corporate communications and Binswanger as co-director of the CAA Foundation. The two assembled a panel on education Tuesday at the talent agency that featured five governors, a U.S. senator, Los Angeles school Supt. Roy Romer and real estate baron and philanthropist Eli Broad. The moderator was writer-director Gary Ross, a CAA client.

"Our work has to be about more than making money. Doing well in your business and doing good in the world are directly connected," said Richard Lovett, CAA's president. "We begged Morgan to take the job because we knew he would be the best way to create substantive programs. And Wendy helps create an elegant, careful profile for the foundation and the agency."

The move West requires some adjustments. Binswanger, a former high school history teacher, never planned to live in California and "certainly had no intention of ever working in the entertainment industry." He admits he had never even heard of CAA.

But after meeting the agency's top brass, he warmed to the challenge of building a tradition of philanthropy in an industry and a city that has no geographic or civic center. During his tenure, CAA has adopted three schools in Venice and one in Nashville, Tenn., donating more than 100 computer terminals and encouraging its agents to mentor kids.

"You've got to produce your own life here. If you do that, you're successful. But if you're waiting for the city to come to you . . . ," he said, shaking his head.

For her part, Smith has been struck by Hollywood's overemphasis on youth, particularly for women. "I want the phrase 'for her age' to be obliterated from the English language," she said wryly.

Griffin, who was the White House liaison to Reiner's 1995 movie "The American President," admits that even after three years, he's still learning Hollywood's lingo.

"I went to a movie every six months in D.C.," he said. "Here, not going to the opening night of a blockbuster film is like not watching the presidential debates--you have nothing to talk about the next day."

But he says star power helps get things done. "Due in part to Reiner's celebrity, we were able to push through Proposition 10, the tobacco tax, which brings $670 million a year for early childhood education. We did that in 18 months. In D.C., that could take 10 years."

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