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As gubernatorial race shapes up, Hollywood types show fundraiser fatigue


June 05, 2009|TINA DAUNT

As Hollywood now sees it, California's upcoming gubernatorial campaign definitely is shaping up as a low-budget production.

There are many reasons for that, but the most important is that the industry's hot-button issue in the next statewide election is sure to be a much anticipated initiative to write a same-sex marriage statute into the state constitution. (Call it "Prop. 8 the Sequel: This Time We Give It Our All.")

Many of the film and television communities' leading activists have a guilty conscience over the anti-same sex marriage measure's passage, which the California Supreme Court recently upheld. Last time around, a number of high-profile celebrities took a pass on an issue many of their advisors regarded as divisively controversial. Others were distracted by efforts to recapture the White House and Congress for the Democrats.

This gubernatorial campaign, says veteran Democratic political strategist Bill Carrick, "will be a race where the table stakes are much lower than they were last time. People are looking for reasons not to write checks. Let's just put it in the context of last time around where [Internet entrepreneur turned Democratic candidate] Steve Westly spent over $40 million. My guess is we are not going to see anywhere near that kind of money raised."

In part, Carrick suggests, that's because Hollywood is poorer than it was before the recession -- OK, it's all relative -- and because even its deep-pocket givers are suffering from a bit of donor fatigue after the recent general election.

On the key issue of same- sex marriage, there really isn't any difference between any of the Democratic candidates, all of whom support it. Then there's the fact that most of the potential candidates' industry connections go back years so there's no urgent need for Hollywood to get to know them.

"A lot of people know Jerry [Brown] and have long-standing relationships with him," Carrick points out. "My sense is there is a comfort level there. Obviously that's also true with Dianne [Feinstein]. Antonio [Villaraigosa] is the hometown mayor. People have relationships with him that go back a ways. Gavin [Newsom] is the new kid on the block. There is a curiosity there about him and interest about him. I don't think people are to the point where they are signing on with him yet." (In fact, even one of the leading Republican hopefuls, former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell, supports same-sex marriage, which could make him the first GOP candidate without a screen credit to win real Hollywood support.)

"My guess," Carrick said, "is what we've seen in the last two presidential elections we're going to see in the governor's race: people taking their time deciding who to be for."

It's also true that -- with the notable exception of the tireless Rob Reiner -- Hollywood always has had trouble working up the same degree of enthusiasm for California politics as it does for national elections. (Think about it: Would you rather be invited to a victory party at the White House or one at Frank Fat's in Sacramento?) With the midterm congressional elections also looming, nationally prominent Democrats already are trekking west to the living and dining rooms of Beverly Hills and Brentwood Park.

The fundraising prospects for statewide candidates are "complicated by the fact that we're going to see every U.S. Senate aspirant in the world out here," Carrick acknowledged.

"There are a lot of interesting Senate races that will attract some attention. That's going to be excuse No. 7 [for not giving to the gubernatorial candidates]: 'Well, I just committed to do a fundraiser for X, Y and Z' " for the Democratic National Committee.

Much of Hollywood also learned a lot by withholding its choice between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton until the last possible moment. (It's nice to be courted, after all, even when you're a celeb.) "You'll see individual donors on more than one [candidate's] contributors list," Carrick predicts. "We'll have to wait and see where the candidates go to raise substantial amounts of money, because no one is setting up the big gala fundraisers yet . . .

"This is going to be interesting. Obviously part of this is that everyone has an excuse: 'I'm friends with all the candidates. . . . I'm waiting to see what Dianne does. I'm not taking sides until Antonio decides. I'm going to wait and see if Gavin really takes off.' "

In Hollywood, in other words, even low-budget scripts go through a lot of rewrites.


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