Potent brew: Hollywood and political cash

Hollywood Boulevard at dusk. (Photo: Sean Pavone, via Shutterstock)

Hollywood and Sacramento are not cities that normally leap into our thoughts at the same time.

Sacramento is leafy streets and politics and scorching heat. Hollywood is, well, Hollywood.

Nonetheless, there are important and longtime associations, and they go ‘way beyond Democratic campaign consultants thinking wistfully of George Clooney.

Clooney and his wife Amal hosted an April  fund raiser for Hillary Clinton in San Francisco, with tickets costing from $33,400 to $353,400.

That’s because Hollywood is the traditional home of a major industry — movies.  Like any other major industry in California seeking protections, movie makers are interested in what goes on in the state Capitol. And in Washington, D.C.

There’s a lot at stake: The estimated domestic box office for the industry this year is $8,430,940,319; last year it totaled $11,301,992,665.

According to a study performed by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, about 162,000 wage and salary workers were employed in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles County during 2011, equivalent to nearly 5% of the 3.3 million private sector wage and salary workers in the county.

“In addition, the industry employed more than 85,000 free-lance professionals and other independent contract workers. With a combined total of 247,000 workers, this is one of the largest industries in the county,” the Economic Development Corporation said.

Hollywood’s biggest names are all over the landscape in supporting candidates and causes, state and federal.

But despite such venerable California stars as Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, veteran campaign consultant Steve Maviglio says Hollywood’s biggest names are usually not all that wrapped up in state politics — they’re  more interested in the biggest political stage, the presidential races.

“They tend to do national stuff, rather than state — maybe it’s too parochial for them,” Maviglio said. He did point out, however, that Bette Midler did do social media work on behalf of Proposition 67, the November 8 measure that would ban single-use plastic bags.

Clooney and his wife Amal, for instance, hosted an April  fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in San Francisco, with tickets costing from $33,400 to $353,400.  Clooney called the ticket costs “obscene.”

“Runaway production” — the film makers who were lured away from California because of incentives offered by 41 rival rival states.

By the fall of 2015, according to a detailed analysis in the Los Angeles Times, Hillary Clinton took in about $5 million, or about 90 percent of the $5.5 million that Hollywood figures had donated to the 2016 campaign.  The donations, whether for Republicans or Democrats, came from all strata of the Tinseltown hierarchy, from the big producers and agents to the screenwriters and makeup artists.

Film titans Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg gave $1 million each to support Clinton, while Star Wars director J. J. Abrams, gave $500,000.

By the summer of 2016, Clinton’s campaign and super PAC collected $56.2 million out of California, fully a fourth of Clinton’s total national fund raising at the time, according to, which tracks political money. Her rival in the primary election, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, also did well in California, pulling in $16.8

Of the California money raised by Clinton, a hefty $22.9 million went to outside groups and allies. The funds raised by Sanders stayed with Sanders.

For both candidates, one out of every two dollars raised in California came from the Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area.

California is also home to the ZIP Codes that have been the single most generous nationwide both to Clinton and to Bernie Sanders.

By ZIP Code, Clinton’s main super PAC, Priorities USA Action, received $10.3 million from L.A.’s 90067, which contains Century City and the Fox Studios. The PAC got $10 million, the campaign about $300,000. The $10 million was donated by producer Haim Saban and his wife, both long-time supporters of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

But not everyone in Hollywood likes Democrats.

Political consultant Patrick Dorinson, the Cowboy Libertarian, led a contingent of entertainment figures on a bus tour in mid-September on behalf of Donald Trump. Academy Award-winner Jon Voight and other riders rambled through Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio, among other battleground states, giving speeches and news conferences.

It wasn’t Voight’s maiden voyage:  Years earlier, he and others participated in a 2003 bus tour starting in San Diego and going up through the Central Valley, including Fresno and Bakersfield, on behalf of California Republicans.

The biggest single policy issue involving Sacramento and Hollywood is the state’s efforts to curb “runaway production” — the film makers who were lured away from California because of incentives offered by 41 rival rival states.

To counter runaway production, state lawmakers approved tripling to $330 million the size of the credit to film makers who stick around Hollywood.  They also shifted the selection process from a lottery to a ratio based on wages paid to workers.

“A Wrinkle in Time” will bring $85 million in qualified spending to California.

The California Film Commission in August bragged that the expanded film and television tax program is working — big time.

The Commission cited Disney’s big-budget “A Wrinkle in Time”as a star among the 28 projects selected for help under the second year of the expanded program.

“It is the type of ‘tent pole’ film previously ineligible under the state’s first- generation tax credit program (Program 1.0), which did not accept projects with budgets greater than $75 million,” the Commission said in a news release.

“A Wrinkle in Time” will bring $85 million in qualified spending to California. Nearly 400 cast and crew members will be employed, with $44 million in wages paid to below-the-line workers,” the release added.

Speaking on the Paramount Studios lot to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce in July, state Senate Leader Kevin de Leon said the expanded goodies are indeed reversing the flight of production from the state.

He said 11 TV series won awarded credits in the first round of selection under the expanded program, including four series relocating to the state.  Among them is HBO’s “Veep.”

“The film tax credit is working, and it will maintain our status as the entertainment capital of the world,” De Leon said.

But back to Clooney: He has vigorously denied that he is interested in running for governor in 2018. The field is already crowded with Clooney’s fellow Democrats.

But political junkies like to dream, and 2018 is a long two years away.


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