Hollywood Cash and Kerry

Redstone, Stringer and Chernin fuel Senator's White House run

The surging campaign of Sen. John Kerry is getting a big fundraising boost from television- and movie-studio brass.

Among those pledging to raise $50,000-$100,000: Peter Chernin, News Corp. president and COO, and James Gianopulis and Tom Rothman, co-chairmen of the company's Fox Filmed Entertainment. Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone, Sony Chairman Howard Stringer and MPAA President and CEO Jack Valenti are also pulling their wallets out for Kerry.

"Hollywood has lined up behind John Kerry more than any other candidate so far," says Craig Aaron, senior researcher for nonpartisan Public Citizen's Congress Watch. He notes it's not only the usual actors and directors supporting the Massachusetts senator. Also committed to solicit serious bucks for Kerry is an impressive list of media and entertainment moguls.

Among them are Viacom Entertainment Group Chairman and CEO Jonathan Dolgen and wife Susan, CBS Entertainment President Nancy Tellem, and Paramount Pictures Chairwoman Sherry Lansing. CBS and Paramount are part of the Viacom family.

Aaron thinks some studio executives are backing Kerry to head off Howard Dean, who made early statements about wanting to break up media conglomerates and is perceived by some to be unelectable against Bush. "For Democratic donors in that business," Aaron said, "that makes Kerry an obvious choice."

Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons, Comcast head Brian Roberts and Clear Channel CEO Lowry Mays are betting on President George W. Bush. Listed among Bush's Pioneers—contributors gathering at least $100,000 in donations for the Bush-Cheney ticket—are Stephen Burke, executive vice president of Comcast Corp. and president of Comcast Cable, and, as reported in BROADCASTING & CABLE, billionaire Univision CEO Jerry Perenchio.

Most of the money raised by such mega-contributors comes from business associates, friends and relatives. That's because, under campaign-finance laws, an individual can give a presidential candidate up to $2,000 in a primary and another $2,000 during a general election.

In 2003, Clear Channel's Mays, who has close ties to the Bush family, and Comcast's Roberts each gave $2,000 to the president. Viacom's Redstone gave $1,000 to Kerry, $3,000 to the re-election bid of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and a hefty $5,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Viacom President and COO Mel Karmazin also is backing Daschle, with $4,000 in contributions last year.

Some media executives are hedging their bets by giving to both parties or multiple Democratic candidates, according to B&C's review of the latest available Federal Election Commission data, covering contributions through Dec. 31, 2003.

News Corp.'s Chernin and MPAA's Valenti each gave $2,000 to Kerry and $2,000 to now-failed presidential contender Dick Gephardt. But, while Chernin aligned with Democrats, News Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch contributed $2,000 to the re-election effort of GOP Sen. John McCain, chairman of the influential Senate Commerce Committee, which regulates the media industry. Meanwhile, Brian Roberts hedged his bet on Bush with a $2,000 check to Daschle.

And despite a $2,000 contribution by Time Warner's Parsons to the Bush campaign, the watchdog Center for Public Integrity last month named Time Warner as Kerry's third-biggest "career patron." The group based its assessment on a review of donations to the senator from 1984 through Sept. 30, 2003. Kerry is a longtime member of the Senate Commerce panel, which may explain Time Warner's interest.

According to another watchdog, the Center for Responsive Politics, Time Warner employees are scattering contributions among several presidential campaigns. Through Dec. 31, company employees gave $74,385 to Dean (ranking Time Warner second among his benefactors) and $29,725 to Kerry.

Meanwhile, Time Warner personnel account for $23,650 in donations to Democrat Gen. Wesley Clark, with Viacom-related contributors adding $19,650 to his campaign, according to the group.

For Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, there could be plenty to gain from a Bush victory, given the GOP's deregulatory bent. The Republican-led FCC is considering a plan to raise the 30% cable-ownership cap after it was declared unconstitutional by a federal appeals court. Comcast is just shy of the old threshold.

Soft-money contributions to the political parties, previously unlimited, were banned under the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance–reform law, making bundled donations from heavy hitters like Comcast's Burke or News Corp.'s Chernin even more crucial than in years past, watchdogs say.

Other noteworthy contributions: Disney Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner gave $5,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee last year, and Liberty Media Corp. Chairman John Malone gave $2,000 to the Republican National Committee.

In addition, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that employees at software giant Microsoft, which co-owns MSNBC, accounted for $162,450 in donations to the Bush campaign and $46,058 in donations to Dean.

Univision won approval from the Bush administration for its $3.5 billion merger with Hispanic Broadcasting Corp., creating the nation's largest Spanish-language TV network, despite accusations by Democrats that Perenchio, a staunch Republican, would use the merged company to woo Hispanic voters to the GOP.