Democrat Fundraising Democrats do the fundraising conga—but not with Playboy

LOS ANGELES— Hollywood has come out of the closet as a big bucks political donor. While business donations continue to dominate political fundraising, the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, and the flurry of affiliated parties, erases any doubt that Big Hollywood has joined Big Business in the effort to influence the men and women whose votes control the way they work. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Democrats’ top five entertainment donors include Joseph E. Seagram & Sons ($1,202,670), Time Warner ($794,875), Dreamworks SKG  ($684,400), Saban Entertainment ($590,500), and Walt Disney Co. ($411,916).

They aimed to get their money’s worth in LA. If the fat, mustache-twirling businessman with a cigar is a Republican, then the darling of the Democrats is the balding studio executive coasting along the freeway in an expensive convertible with a babe by his side; he was probably party-hopping all week long.

There were some rules: The coddled Hollywood type kept a low profile. Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman’s anti-Hollywood rhetoric was met with silence from studio executives, who also refused to defend the most controversial party during the convention: the Playboy Mansion fundraiser for Orange County Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez. Playboy’s gig was opposed by the Gore campaign, though Gore has previously accepted money from Playboy.

Sanchez was sacked as a convention speaker, then reinstated after she agreed to move the event to B.B. King's Blues Club at Universal Studios. Playboy moved on, hosting a party at Hugh Hefner’s elegant estate in Holmby Hills for select members of the media.

Sanchez was dumped by the Democrats anyway. The Gore campaign—mindful of Gore’s Buddhist temple fundraiser fiasco, Clinton’s sex scandals and Lieberman’s presumptive appeal as a cultural savior—refused to let her speak, without so much as a peep from those stars who regularly denounce what they call McCarthyism.

Not that there weren’t naughty parties. On Saturday, donors attended a risque affair at the Conga Room, a Hollywood nightclub and restaurant known for its scantily-clad women, where they enjoyed Latin music with Joe Andrew, the party's national chairman.

Other events included:

  • The pre-convention media bash, dubbed Faces of Los Angeles, was one of the largest parties, with an estimated 20,000 journalists and others attending the event at the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles. The menu included corn tamales with chicken, beef taquitos, assorted sushi, black olive focaccia, and Chinese beef salad.
  • A hush-hush Sunday brunch with singer and Democratic donor Barbra Streisand, which raised $10 million for the Clinton presidential library.
  • The stars flocked to rescue Hillary Clinton’s struggling Senate campaign in New York.  Celebrities shelled out $1,000 to nibble on shrimp, pizza and tuna or $25,000 per couple for lobster dinner with Bill Clinton. The guest list included Michael Bolton--who sang “When a Man Loves a Woman” to the First Couple--Sugar Ray, Paul Anka, Cher, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, Milton Berle, Olivia Newton-John, Carol Burnett, David Spade, Laura Dern, Michael York, Angie Dickinson, Dylan McDermott and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Hillary, who was accompanied by daughter Chelsea and held hands with the president during the tribute, took in $4 million.
  • There were parties for Senate Democrats at Disney, the Democratic National Committee at Paramount, California Gov. Gray Davis at Warner Brothers and a nonstop party at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where the Academy Awards are presented.
  • The DNC’s $50,000 or $100,000 contributors received tickets to several events, including a dinner at Spago, drinks at Barney's in Beverly Hills and a performance by Sheryl Crow at the Sunset Room.
  • Ads in TV Guide Aren’t Enough: NBC's The West Wing, hosted a party at the Warner Bros. sound stage in Burbank where the series is filmed. Cast members Martin Sheen and Rob Lowe partied with Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, CNN's Larry King and NBC's Brian Williams.
  • Show Me ... the Money: Citicorp footed the bill for the opening reception for the Missouri delegation.
  • Qwest Communications bought breakfast for the Massachusetts delegation, which includes Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey, the top Democrat on the telecommunications subcommittee.
  • Defense contractor United Technologies hosted lunch for Connecticut delegates; Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
  • Donors who contributed at least $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee were given an 18-page list of exclusive receptions and events with party bigwigs, including the president, Vice President Al Gore and first lady Hillary Clinton.
  • A luncheon for Senator Dianne Feinstein was sponsored by oil giant Chevron.
  • Democrats didn’t have to look hard for the union label: The United Auto Workers sponsored no less than 11 parties and an exclusive club for $500,000 and up donors- known as the Chairman's Circle--boasts several unions, prompting some grumbling among union workers at Staples Center about how their union dues are spent.

This 2000 article was published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, San Jose Mercury News, and Buffalo News.

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