Politics, Media and Money
What do Dennis Hopper, Comcast executives, Kirk Kerkorian and Geraldine Laybourne have in common? They're all eagerly writing checks to their favorite candidates in the most money-saturated presidential campaign ever
By David Hatch -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/10/2004 8:00:00 PM
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As a partner and co-founder of the Carsey-Werner production company, Marcy Carsey has plenty to keep her busy. Fox's That '70s Show is from her company, one of the last major independent producers left in the TV business. The distribution arm of the company that created The Cosby Show ships programs in more than 50 languages to over 175 countries. She's busy, but Carsey has taken time out this year for a different sort of distribution effort: sending checks to support the presidential candidacy of Sen. John Kerry.
Carsey's donations in recent months range from a million-dollar gift to Victory Campaign 2004, the fundraising effort of two soft money "527" groups intent on ousting President Bush, to a $2,000 check sent to the Kerry campaign in February. Carsey also shipped $25,000 to the Democratic National Committee, and she may be thinking ahead to the 2008 presidential election: In the spring, Carsey gave a total of $4,000 in support of Sen. Hillary Clinton, who's not running for anything right now.
Hollywood's interest in influencing the political debate is well-known, of course, but a B&C review of campaign contributions during this election season shows that the movers and shakers in media and entertainment industries are interested in donating more than just hot air to the process.
Although the contributions, unsurprisingly, tend heavily toward the Democrat side of the ledger, money is flowing into both campaigns—sometimes from the same, bet-hedging donors—and comes from a wide array of powerful players, including (for the Republicans) billionaire MGM mogul Kirk Kerkorian and Univision Chairman and CEO Jerry Perenchio and (for the Democrats) former YES Network CEO Leo Hindery and DreamWorks principal Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Tracking the money is easier than determining whether the motivation behind it tends more toward trying to buy influence or expressing ideological solidarity.
Carsey couldn't be reached for comment on her activity as a sort of one-woman political action committee (several others in this story were similarly unavailable), but Ann Cox Chambers, a director of the media giant Cox Enterprises, happily shares the thinking behind her efforts on behalf of Kerry.
"President Bush creates chaos in whatever theater he turns his attention to," she says. "I think four more years would be catastrophic for any of our companies, as well as every other company."
Cox, who emphasizes that she's speaking for herself, not the company, is designated a vice chair of the Kerry campaign for having raised more than $100,000 for the Democratic ticket. She donated $25,000 to the Democratic National Committee in the spring and gave $2,000 directly to Kerry last year. She has also contributed to America Coming Together (ACT), MoveOn.org and other pro-Democrat 527 groups that operate outside the Federal Election Commission's purview and don't cap contributions. She plans to give more money to ACT before Election Day.
That sort of targeted largesse makes political watchdogs bristle. "Our view is, it's not fair that money from a select number of individuals should be able have such a huge megaphone in the political process," says Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch. Of the 527 organizations, he says, "It's not right that a group can exist to collect these huge sums of money."
Until the election season heated up, Stephen Bing's major claim to fame was as the caddish father of actress Elizabeth Hurley's baby a couple of years ago. But now the movie producer and head of Shangri-La Entertainment is wowing Hollywood with his free-spending support for pro-Democrat 527 groups. Bing, the inheritor of a sizeable fortune, has sent more than $6.9 million to Victory Campaign 2004 and nearly a million dollars to MoveOn.org, according to the watchdog Center for Responsive Politics.
Bing isn't the only player in the media-entertainment industrial complex to hit the seven-figure mark with political donations this year. Fred Eychaner, president of Newsweb Corp., has given $1.15 million to pro-Democrat 527s; he got some of his fortune by selling a Chicago TV station, WPWR, for $425 million to Rupert Murdoch's Fox. But other donors more commonly stay in six figures.
The Kerry campaign has enough vice chairs to fill a hotel ballroom, including $100,000+ bundlers Hindery; actor Dennis Hopper and his wife, Victoria; Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg; Chris McGurk, vice chairman and COO of MGM, and his wife, Jamie.
Other notable members of the Dems' money tree this year include Miramax Co-Chairman Harvey Weinstein; Oxygen Media Founder, Chairman and CEO Geraldine Laybourne ($25,000 and $51,250, respectively, to the DNC or its affiliates); and Barry Diller, chairman and CEO of InterActiveCorp., who gave $10,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
They're harder to come by in this rarefied sector of the economy, but Republican sympathizers have broken open their checkbooks as well. Tom Hicks, chairman and CEO of Hicks, Tate, Muse and Furst, which owns sizable stakes in LIN Television and Clear Channel Communications (where Hicks was formerly vice chairman), is a Bush Pioneer, gathering at least $100,000 in bundled donations, according to watchdog group Public Citizen. Kerkorian, who has a deal pending to sell MGM to a Sony-led consortium, gave $25,000 to the Republican National Committee in March and $5,000 that month to a PAC supporting the GOP leadership in Congress, along with $2,000 to Bush last year.
Republican fundraisers are also happy to see Univision's Perenchio. As B&C reported previously, he signed on early as a Bush Pioneer.
But now Perenchio is contributing in other ways: In June, he donated $1 million to the Progress for America Voter Fund, a 527 running TV ads in support of Bush. And according to Public Citizen, he's a Bush Super Ranger, having gathered $300,000 in bundled contributions for the GOP.
Then again, FEC records indicate that Perenchio isn't putting all of his eggs in one basket: Last year, he contributed $25,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Indeed, other bettors put their money on the red and, in the case of political fundraising roulette, the blue. Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator, and Stephen Burke, Comcast's president, each donated $2,500 this year to the Republican Party in Pennsylvania, an important swing state.
But Roberts, who gave $2,000 to Bush last year, gave the same amount to Kerry in August, which follows on his $2,000 donation to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in March.
Children's-entertainment mogul Haim Saban, who sold his programming partnership with Fox to Disney in 2001, is a prominent and longtime Democrat supporter. He and wife Cheryl are $100,000-level bundlers for Kerry, and Saban is a DNC Trustee, gathering at least $250,000 for the party, according to Public Citizen statistics.
In 2003, Saban gave $57,000 to various Democratic organizations, plus $1,000 to the Kerry campaign. But FEC records indicate that Saban is a bit of mighty morphin power player: He also gave $2,000 to the Bush campaign.
Saban might have shown a hint of trying to cover all the political bases, but another center of show-biz influence remains steadfastly in the Democrat camp: the Seinfeld bloc.
In August, Jerry Seinfeld kicked in $5,000 for Hill PAC, Sen. Clinton's political action committee, which funnels money to Democratic candidates. Last year, he contributed $2,000 to Kerry's campaign, according to FEC records.
His Seinfeld co-creator, Larry David, and David's wife, Laurie, have given a combined total of $180,000 to support Kerry, various pro-Democratic 527 organizations and the DNC. Like many of their counterparts, the Davids aren't likely to curb their enthusiasm for bankrolling causes they believe in until after Nov. 2.
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