- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Congress: The Sequel” is shaping up as one blockbuster that Hollywood would rather not greenlight.

The liberal-leaning entertainment world, long a fertile source of campaign funds and star-power endorsements for Democrats, faces a major script rewrite on Capitol Hill as Republicans prepare to take control of the House of Representatives and boost their Senate caucus in the next Congress.

Democrats, aided in large measure by Hollywood cash, held their ground in states such as New York and California, but the next Congress will include dozens of conservative newcomers from the heartland with little cultural, political or geographic sympathy for the entertainment and media centers on the coasts. How that gulf will affect policy on issues such as taxes, government spending and intellectual property rights remains uncertain.

Daniel Cortez is a rare figure with experience in both worlds. A Northern Virginia retiree and disabled Vietnam veteran, Mr. Cortez had a brief career as a military technical adviser on some Hollywood productions and earned bit parts in the movies “No Way Out” and “MacArthur.”

Today, Mr. Cortez serves as a spokesman and public affairs director for the Northern Virginia Tea Party, and he says the “Hollywood elites” are in for a major shock.

“The reality — and I saw it up close — is that those in the motion-picture industry are highly political and highly political from the left,” Mr. Cortez said. “The incomes and the kind of money that passes around out there is so stratospheric that they have very little idea of what ordinary people care about or why they are so angry.

The reaction against such elitism, he added, “is why the ‘tea parties’ got organized in the first place, and not just elitism from Democrats but Republicans as well.”

Howard Gantman, Washington spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America, rejects the idea that the entertainment industry faces a rough period with the GOP on the rise.

“The issues we care about as an industry are not partisan,” he said in a telephone interview. “We have never had any problem working with both sides of the aisle.”

He noted that the MPAA’s top legislative priority, a hotly contested bill to curb intellectual property theft on the Internet, is being co-sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the panel.

Whatever the personal ideological leanings of an Alec Baldwin or a Barbra Streisand, the industry is a profitable, export-generating powerhouse that conducts business in virtually every state. “We don’t represent the whole entertainment world; we represent the MPAA,” Mr. Gantman said.

Still, the record of corporate giving by the main entertainment industries — movies, television, radio and music — shows that Hollywood has some fences to mend in Washington.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political giving, Hollywood campaign contributions have skewed heavily toward Democrats for at least 20 years. In 2008, when Barack Obama won the White House and Democrats increased their majority in both houses of Congress, 78 percent of campaign contributions from the industry went to Democrats.

In the most recent cycle, show-business donors gave $15.7 million to Democratic candidates and $5.9 million to Republicans.

The top nine recipients of industry cash in the 2009-10 election cycle were all Democrats, led by Sens. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Harry Reid of Nevada. Of the top 15 recipients, just two — Rep. Mary Bono Mack of California and Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa — were Republicans.

According to an analysis of Federal Election Commission records, liberal Democratic incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer had 40 Hollywood-linked donors for every one donor contributing to GOP challenger Carly Fiorina. Among Mrs. Boxer’s backers: Miss Streisand, Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, Kevin Kline, Robin Williams, Sally Field and Don Henley.

Ms. Fiorina’s star support gave off a far lower wattage, including Mindy Stearns, an actress whose credits include a small part in “The Princess Diaries,” and an ad sales director for the Spanish-language network Telemundo. Mrs. Boxer ended up winning by 10 percentage points.

Even after the electoral reverse, Democrats have trekked to Hollywood looking for support. Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel held a Hollywood fundraiser just two days after the Nov. 2 vote for his planned run for mayor of Chicago in February.

Although Hollywood boasts a few prominent conservative activists, the election may affect the steady stream of “celeb-vocates” who have trooped to Washington in recent years to push pet causes or lobby for funding. Last week on Capitol Hill, Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis lobbied lawmakers on ratification of a long-stalled international convention banning discrimination against women and fellow actress Jennifer Garner testified before a Senate subcommittee seeking more funding for early childhood literacy and nutrition programs.

The trade publication Variety reported last week that a cottage industry of consultants already has sprung up to advise show-business activists on how best to use their celebrity in the “Age of the Tea Party.”

“The Republican House is going to create a need for a shift in strategy for high-profile philanthropists, not just in the entertainment industry,” Trevor Neilson told the paper. The roster of clients for Mr. Neilson’s Global Philanthropy Group includes Brad Pitt, Jim Carrey and Demi Moore.

Entertainment-industry-related issues likely to arise in the next Congress include “Net neutrality,” with many Republicans skeptical of the Obama administration’s effort to establish rules of the road for clogged Internet traffic; arts and broadcasting funding for such agencies as the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; a “pay-for-play” bill requiring radio stations to pay performers when their music is played on the air; and copyright and intellectual property issues.

Dan Glickman, a former Democratic senator, secretary of agriculture and president of the MPAA, told Variety, “It is going to be a changed world, regardless of what happens.”