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Hollywood's Wallets Haven't Opened -- Yet

The tepid response to Davis' bid to avoid being recalled may be about to change.

August 29, 2003|James Bates and Michael Cieply Times Staff Writers | Times Staff Writers

Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger's got it. Independent Arianna Huffington's getting it. But Democrats Cruz Bustamante, Gray Davis and the anti-recall effort are still mostly waiting for what has been a mainstay of their party's politics: Hollywood money.

The largely pro-Democratic entertainment industry, typically a hotbed of fund-raising and political activity before elections, is only now waking up from its late-summer slumber to choose sides and, more important, write checks.

On Thursday, more than a month after the recall election was set, studio fax machines began humming with word of a major fund-raiser for Gov. Davis to be held Sept. 18 at the Century Plaza Hotel.

The event is expected to draw the kind of star power and funding that have so far been missing from the Democratic governor's fight to save a job that he first won with help from show business backers.

After an initial wave of anti-recall contributions from producer Stephen Bing and media moguls Haim Saban and Norman Pattiz, Hollywood giving has been dominated by Schwarzenegger's $2-million transfer to his own pro-recall campaign, and a series of relatively small contributions from agents, producers and others to Huffington's message-oriented effort.

Some, like billionaire broadcasting mogul A. Jerrold Perenchio, have spread their donations in several directions, giving money to the anti-recall campaign as well as to the campaigns of both Schwarzenegger and Bustamante.

Much of the tepid response so far stems from the industry's long-standing tradition of powering down during August, when executives vacation and offices are manned by skeleton crews. "Nobody's around, because it's that time of year," said Judy Levy, a Beverly Hills fund-raiser who has supported Democratic causes in the past.

As a result, such heavy-hitting Democratic donors as Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg -- founders of the DreamWorks SKG studio -- have yet to take the plunge. Andy Spahn, who oversees the troika's political activities, said he planned to meet with them after Labor Day to discuss what role, if any, they wanted to play in the Oct. 7 election to recall Davis.

Hollywood political figures expect anti-recall money to start flowing soon. Donna Bojarsky, a public policy consultant who advises entertainment figures such as actor Richard Dreyfuss, predicted Hollywood's recall activity would accelerate dramatically after Labor Day, when she expects a push to oppose the recall and support Davis.

Bojarsky said she didn't expect much activity supporting Davis alternatives such as Lt. Gov. Bustamante, who is little known in Hollywood, or superstar Schwarzenegger, who has close social ties to the industry but cuts across its political grain.

"The focus is going to be anti-recall," Bojarsky said. "The industry is largely Democratic. I don't believe there's going to be a push for Arnold. People won't sell their values and party short."

The cornerstone of Hollywood's anti-recall efforts is likely to be the Century Plaza fund-raiser. Among the higher-profile people expected to emerge as anti-recall activists are Dreyfuss, Warren Beatty, Barbra Streisand, director Rob Reiner, producer Sean Daniel, Paramount Pictures studio chief Sherry Lansing, William Morris Agency chief Jim Wiatt and producer Norman Lear.

In the past, Hollywood has been known for backing national Democratic candidates such as Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Al Gore in their bids for office.

Many of the same donors also have been stalwart backers of state Democrats. For instance, Lansing, chairwoman of Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures Motion Picture Group, has contributed to Davis, who named her to the University of California's Board of Regents. A Paramount spokesman said Lansing was out of the country and wouldn't be returning for a week and a half.

Similarly, a political action committee associated with AOL Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. studio donated heavily to a Davis campaign committee in 2000, according to state records. A studio spokeswoman declined to discuss the PAC's plans.

Some observers say the studios and their executives have been sidelined partly because Davis' team, as it focused on rounding up backing from well-heeled unions and others, hasn't pressed them. "Why would we give if we haven't been begged yet," said one studio Democrat, who asked not to be identified.

Chad Griffin, a political consultant to Hollywood figures such as Reiner, said Hollywood's muted response so far didn't mean it was sitting out the recall.

"First, like everyone else, including labor, Hollywood was trying to determine what the message would be," Griffin said. "And two, nobody is back in town until next Tuesday."

He predicted that the industry would be most active in anti-recall efforts in the days leading up to the election, when media coverage is likely to be most important.

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