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And ... political action!

Hollywood Democrats pump money into Sen. John F. Kerry's war chest with legal but controversial fundraising.

August 13, 2004|Elaine Dutka | Times Staff Writer

Celebrities such as Valerie Harper, Ed Asner, Esai Morales, Diane Ladd and "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin were among those training to be Kerry "surrogates" at the home of Daphna Ziman, who co-founded Artists for Kerry with former California first lady Sharon Davis. They listened to Roger Wolfson, former aide to the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), deliver tips on raising money and awareness -- particularly important in nonswing states such as California, where advertising and Kerry campaign appearances are limited, his supporters say.

Harper, who campaigned in four states for Clinton, says the push is more "democratic" this time around. Six hundred house parties, to which Kerry called in, were held nationwide on May 22, including 200 in California. Harper says she has spoken at most of the dozen she's attended.

"I'm renting myself out," said the actress. "I'm not good on the computer and I don't bake, but I did play 'Rhoda' and I can use that. People say, 'Oh , those Hollywood folks,' but we never gave up our citizenship." By choosing not to accept federal money in the primaries and caucuses, Kerry sidestepped spending limits -- raising a record amount in the private domain, National Deputy Political Director Lara Bergthold says. That nest egg gives him a leg up.

"Next to the most conservative president we've ever had, Ronald Reagan looks like a mild-mannered sweet man," said Bergthold, Kerry's official liaison with Hollywood. "The threat is so real, the consequences so great, everyone's in rapid attack mode."

"Until there's public campaign financing, there'll always be some way to raise money outside of the system. It took years and years to reform the current system and could take that long again. Until such time, we have to take advantage of whatever's at our disposal."

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