Movie Studios Still Support Rogan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 27, 1999; Page A4
The lobbyists who gathered at the Hay-Adams Hotel for an intimate fund-raiser one night last week represented the biggest studios in Hollywood: Disney, Universal, Paramount, Fox, Warner Brothers. They had come together to pointedly show their support for a Republican who at first glance might seem an unlikely beneficiary of entertainment industry cash: California Rep. James E. Rogan, who helped lead the charge for President Clinton's impeachment.
But the event was designed to demonstrate in the most effective way Washington lobbyists know -- with $2,000 checks made out to the Rogan campaign -- that they would continue to back the two-term incumbent despite his role as a "manager" in Clinton's impeachment trial.
The early fund-raiser, convened by Motion Picture Association of America president and veteran Democrat Jack Valenti, was a signal not only to Rogan but to the broader GOP leadership that despite the vocal anti-Republican pronouncements of some of Hollywood's leading figures, the industry is a pragmatic business like any other.
"We just wanted to show early that even though he's become controversial, we're sticking with the guy," said one source familiar with the fund-raiser. "The purpose of this meeting was to demonstrate that the suits get it. We're loyal to him regardless of what we may think of the impeachment issue."
With the wounds of impeachment still raw, the Rogan race pits Hollywood's Democratic heart against its business head. It involves a House member who is the hometown embodiment of the drive to impeach Clinton, but has also been supportive of the industry's needs and sits on two subcommittees crucial to its economic interests.
The race is shaping up as a battle of the Hollywood titans, with DreamWorks' David Geffen vowing to defeat Rogan and Disney's Michael Eisner throwing his company's considerable corporate might behind him.
Geffen, a Clinton ally outraged over the impeachment process and with a checkbook and Rolodex to make his anger felt, has Rogan squarely within his sights. "David Geffen promised me however many millions of dollars we need to defeat Rogan," boasted Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Patrick J. Kennedy (R.I.). Geffen -- whose DreamWorks partners Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg are also big Democratic donors -- is helping promote a May 15 Clinton fund-raiser in Los Angeles that aims to raise $1.5 million for the party's congressional campaign committees.
On the other side, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (Va.) said after meeting this month with Eisner that he was confident of the Disney chairman's support. Eisner "said Jim Rogan is one of the best friends they have in Congress," Davis recalled.
Disney spokesman John Dreyer confirmed that, because of Rogan's strong defense of copyright protection for the studios, "the company supports him," but added, "Michael does not stake out public political positions as head of a media company."
The fight over Rogan illustrates the delicate dance between Republicans and the entertainment community, in which each side is torn between suspicion and a desire to find common ground.
Because Hollywood is such a fertile source of campaign donations, Republicans have been trying to do a better job of mining the industry for contributions, creating a special Entertainment Task Force, now chaired by Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.).
And with the GOP takeover of Congress, the industry has undergone a striking increase in giving to Republicans.
An analysis by the Campaign Study Group shows that during the 1992 elections, entertainment interests gave more than $10 million to Democratic Party committees and candidates, more than triple the $3 million that went to Republicans. By 1998, those numbers had changed dramatically, with $8.5 million going to Democrats and $5.6 million to Republicans. But individuals in the industry continued to heavily favor Democrats, giving $4 million to Democrats compared with just $1 million to Republicans.
That Democratic tilt was on display at the Academy Awards last Sunday when emcee Whoopi Goldberg took a shot at independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and noted: "You'll notice I always enter from stage left. That's because of the vast right-wing conspiracy." One Republican entertainment lobbyist said such pronouncements make his life harder. "It's extremely difficult to elevate a kind of issue that's important to Hollywood without having it [Democratic bias] thrown in your face," he said. "I think we have done our best to explain this artist-businessman disconnect."
Fund-raising is crucial to this public relations offensive. In addition to the Rogan event last Thursday, the entertainment community is planning an April fund-raiser for conservative Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.), who won a seat on the House Judiciary Committee this month.
Rogan, whose Burbank-area district serves as home to Disney, Warner Brothers and NBC, sits on two subcommittees important to the entertainment industry: intellectual property on Judiciary and telecommunications on Commerce. Last year, he battled the GOP leadership to make sure legislation authorizing the World Intellectual Property Organization treaty made it through the House.
Rogan is contemplating abandoning his House seat in favor of challenging Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) next year, and if he does, he could transfer his war chest to a Senate campaign committee.
"I'm good on their issues and they want to support me," said Rogan, who is likely to face a challenge next year from state Sen. Adam Schiff (D). "I didn't get on Judiciary to do impeachment. I got on Judiciary to do copyright and intellectual property."
But even Hollywood executives can't resist talking about impeachment now and then. As Rogan and a staff member finished up their sorbet garnished with pirouette cookies Thursday night, the lobbyists -- who included Richard Bates of Disney, Peggy Binzel of Fox, Timothy Boggs of Time Warner, Matthew Gerson of Universal and Carol Melton of Viacom/Paramount -- pressed the congressman for details about taking Monica S. Lewinsky's deposition.
Said Rogan, "They wanted to know what it was like on the inside."
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company