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Hollywood will meet Obama with open wallets

By Richard Verrier and Matea Gold, Tribune Washington Bureau –

LOS ANGELES — Despite complaints about his failure to support Hollywood’s position on online piracy, President Barack Obama does not appear to have lost his fundraising base in the entertainment community.

As Obama arrives in Los Angeles on Wednesday, local campaign fundraisers said there has been no drop-off in Hollywood donations to his re-election bid since the D.C. demise of long-sought anti-piracy legislation. Hollywood’s chief lobbyist Chris Dodd suggested last month that Obama and his fellow Democrats could pay a price for not representing the industry’s interests in Washington.

But there is no evidence of that in the run-up to Wednesday’s fundraising events. A dinner and a reception at the Holmby Hills home of “The Bold and the Beautiful” producer Bradley Bell and his wife, Colleen, co-hosted by actor Will Ferrell and his wife, Viveca, sold out faster than any fundraiser in the last several years, according to Ken Solomon, co-chairman of Obama’s Southern California fundraising committee.

The reception, featuring an acoustic set by recent Grammy winners the Foo Fighters, will run $250 to $500 per person. A small private dinner, which will cost $35,800 a head, will follow. The two events are expected to raise more than $3 million for the campaign and Democratic National Committee.

The robust turnout underscores the ties that bind many in the entertainment industry to the Democratic president on topics such as abortion rights and the environment. Because much of Hollywood political giving is ideological, campaign donations are not usually tied to short-term legislative items, fundraisers said.

“Hollywood money for the most part is actually quite pure,” said veteran Los Angeles Democratic fundraiser John Emerson, the other co-chairman of Obama’s Southern California finance team. “It’s given by people who really believe in the issues. They’re not writing the checks because they’re after some regulatory change.”

Dan Glickman, who served as chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America from 2004 to 2010 — the position Dodd holds now — said some in the entertainment industry may have residual “sour feelings” from the White House’s stance on the anti-piracy legislation, but not enough to make a significant dent in the president’s reputation with Hollywood Democrats.

“On issues like censorship, how to deal with the less fortunate in society, dealing with the poor — they’re pretty strong advocates of the progressive agenda,” Glickman said. “They’re not one-issue voters.”

Indeed, key figures in the entertainment community have been ardent backers of Obama’s re-election bid.

Producer Paula Wagner says she has been and continues to be an Obama supporter but does not view the issue of piracy through a political lens: “This transcends politics,” she said. “Nobody has the right to steal our movies, but that’s not political. Maybe the bill was too Draconian and needs to be restructured without violating free speech, privacy and access to information.”

Producer and former MCA Inc. President Sidney Sheinberg added: “I was once asked by (Newt) Gingrich, ‘Why is it that the Democrats have always been great supporters of Hollywood and the Republicans have not?’ I told him the reason is that most people in Hollywood vote their conscience, not their pocket book.”

For example, Sheinberg said his wife, actress Lorraine Grey, “is going to vote for a pro-choice candidate.”

Fundraising co-chairman Solomon, who is also chief executive of the Tennis Channel, said that even though there was some initial anger over the administration’s stance on the anti-piracy measures, many top Hollywood executives now feel the initial legislation was flawed.

“A few who have been on the front line of pushing this might try to exact a pound of flesh,” he said. “But the notion that steadfast supporters were going to walk out the door en masse and hand the election over to Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney is pretty preposterous.”

Some of the industry’s best-known figures are raising money for the campaign. Among them are film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and political adviser Andy Spahn, who each brought in more than $500,000 by the end of 2011, according to figures released by the campaign. Solomon also raised more than $500,000, while talent agent Ari Emanuel (brother of former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel) corralled between $100,000 and $200,000.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, fundraisers working in the film, television and music industries have raised $4.75 million for Obama’s election through the end of 2011 — well above the $3.7 million raised for Obama by the same industry groups during the entire 2008 election cycle.

And when first lady Michelle Obama visited Los Angeles two weeks ago to headline two campaign fundraisers, the sold-out events brought in more than $1 million, organizers said.

President Obama’s visit is his first to Los Angeles since two bills that were strongly backed by the MPAA — the Protect Intellectual Property Act and the more controversial Stop Online Piracy Act — were derailed. The bills would have given the Justice Department authority to seek court orders requiring Internet search engines and payment processors to block access to websites involved in piracy.

While studios and unions argued they were necessary to combat online piracy from foreign websites, opponents including Google led a campaign to defeat the bills, viewing them as a threat to their industry and freedom of speech on the Internet.

The White House publicly criticized key aspects of the bills, angering many in Hollywood who felt the president was siding with Silicon Valley interests. Others aren’t blaming the White House for the backlash against SOPA.

“Hollywood got beat because these new companies had better messaging and leveraged their extraordinary distribution and market share,” said Charles Segars, chief executive of the arts TV channel Ovation. “I don’t blame the White House for our error.”

During his two-day campaign swing through California, Obama will be making stops in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, soliciting funds from Hollywood and the high-tech sector — opposing sides in the online piracy issue.

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