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Hollywood Celebrities Lobby for Campaign Finance Reform

Politics: Group threatens to withhold contributions from lawmakers who oppose limits on election spending.

March 12, 2001|MARK Z. BARABAK | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — Throwing their celebrity weight behind campaign finance reform efforts, a group of entertainment activists is threatening to withhold contributions from lawmakers who decline to support a crackdown on election spending.

The move by the Creative Coalition and some of its major political donors comes as the U.S. Senate prepares for the most significant campaign finance debate in years.

In a letter to be released today, celebrities including William Baldwin, Ben Stiller, Rick Schroeder, Marlo Thomas, Phil Donahue and more than a dozen others say they will not endorse or raise money for any lawmaker or congressional candidate who opposes the principles in the overhaul bill pending in the Senate. Each attested to giving or raising more than $10,000 in political gifts over the years.

"We're closer than we've ever been" to revamping the federal election finance system, Baldwin said in an interview. The actor is president of the Creative Coalition, a nonpartisan advocacy group representing the arts and entertainment industry.

"We're writing this letter to say we'll do everything in our power to hold these people accountable and punish them" if they do not back reforms, Baldwin said.

The Senate is set to take up legislation next week that would ban unlimited and unregulated contributions to political parties, the dollars known as "soft money." The bill would also impose other limits on campaign donations and election advertising.

The legislation is sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who plan a joint appearance today in San Francisco as part of a national barnstorming effort.

Federal law currently limits individual gifts to $2,000 per candidate in a two-year election campaign and political action committee gifts to $10,000 per candidate. Most recent campaign-finance scandals have involved soft money.

The two major parties raised more than $460 million in loosely regulated contributions during the 1999-2000 campaign, nearly double the amount four years ago, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan group Common Cause.

The McCain-Feingold bill has enjoyed majority support in the Senate, but failed to pass because of Republican stall tactics. With Democrats now controlling 50 seats in the Senate, the bill appears closer to obtaining the 60 votes needed to block a filibuster.

As a result, opponents have stepped up efforts to kill the bill, producing a number of odd-bedfellow alliances. At a recent Capitol Hill news conference, representatives of the Christian Coalition and American Civil Liberties Union joined other groups from across the political spectrum to denounce McCain-Feingold as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.

McCain, who has previously criticized Hollywood over violent entertainment fare, welcomed the Creative Coalition's support as a counterweight to that argument. The coalition and its members are active on issues related to free speech and creative freedom.

The group's endorsement of campaign finance overhaul "is in keeping with 'Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,' " McCain said of the classic Frank Capra film, which features a do-gooder taking on the political establishment. "I think they understand this is an issue of freedom and freedom from special interests."

Opponents object to the bill on several counts, saying it would undermine the power of political parties and deny advocacy organizations a legitimate say in public policy. Among the groups fighting McCain-Feingold are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Right to Life Committee and the National Rifle Assn.

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