Aug. 8, 1998
Page 2170

Building Bridges Between Hollywood and Congress

By Alan K. Ota, CQ Staff Writer

Jack Valenti, Tinseltown's man in Washington, has an ear on both coasts and a pragmatic approach in tending to his wealthy clients.

"You never know when you will need your adversary today to be your friend tomorrow," says Jack Valenti, Hollywood's lobbyist in Washington. (Congressional Quarterly File Photo)

"It's never personal. You stick to the issues," said Valenti, president since 1966 of the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents seven major movie studios. "That's one of the reasons I'm a survivor."

Now, Valenti, 76, a Democrat who was President Lyndon B. Johnson's press secretary, has assumed the role of a quiet broker in trying to work out a marriage of convenience between Democratic West Coast movie moguls and leaders of the Republican Congress.

The latest courtship ritual was a June 29 meeting of top movie studio executives and Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. Reps. David Dreier, vice chairman of the House Rules Committee, and Mary Bono, both Republicans from California, accompanied Gingrich to movieland.

Over a breakfast of eggs Benedict in a private dining room on the lot of Universal Studios in Studio City, Calif., Gingrich told a group of movie moguls that Republicans would "protect private property," whether it is movies or real estate.

Dreier said he and Gingrich stressed their commitment to issues important to Hollywood, including copyright protection of movies and music, and pro-business tax and trade policies. In return, Dreier said heads of a half-dozen studios agreed to support Republican fundraising efforts.

Gingrich Goes to Hollywood

Gingrich and Hollywood began a courtship soon after Republicans took control of Congress. He appointed the late Rep. Sonny Bono, R-Calif., as an emissary to Hollywood. After Bono's death in a skiing accident last January, Republicans turned to his wife, Mary, and Dreier to follow up. (CQ Weekly, p. 93)

For its part, Hollywood badly wants help. It has faced long delays in key battles on Capitol Hill with other industries over a copyright term extension bill (HR2589) and another bill to ensure copyright protection of software and compact discs (HR2281). (Copyright, CQ Weekly, p. 1953; House passage, p. 820)

In the June meeting, Gingrich and Dreier offered to help promote both bills.

The executives who attended included Edgar Bronfman Jr., chairman of Seagram Co., parent of Universal; Ron Meyer, president of MCA Corp.; Frank Mancuso, chairman of Metro Goldwyn Mayer/United Artists; Terry Semel, chairman of Warner Brothers Studios; and John F. Cooke, executive vice president of corporate affairs for Walt Disney Co.

"It was a good meeting. They agreed to support some of our initiatives," Dreier said. "We are continuing to build bridges to Hollywood."

After breakfast, Bronfman escorted Gingrich onto the set of the movie "Ed-TV" to meet with director Ron Howard and actors Matthew McConaughey and Rob Reiner. The movie is about a video store clerk who agrees to let a television camera follow his life 24 hours a day.

Valenti said afterwards that both sides wanted closer communications. He said he had long encouraged industry leaders such as Michael D. Eisner, chairman of Disney, to make regular visits to Capitol Hill "to put a face with the name" and to adopt a bipartisan stance in dealing with lawmakers.

Privately, lobbyists for the entertainment industry describe a conflicted relationship with the Republican-controlled Congress.

They like what the party stands for when it comes to tax cuts, particularly lower capital gains tax rates, and measures aimed at increasing exports of American products. They recoil when Republicans start talking about a social agenda that supports family values and attacks gay rights and legal abortion.

Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, who attended the June 29 meeting, said the entertainment industry had "agreed to disagree" with Republicans on social issues, while backing parts of the Republican business agenda.

Money for the GOP

A new study by the Center for Responsive Politics shows that mixture of feelings in Hollywood toward Republicans. During the 1998 election cycle, the entertainment industry has directed campaign contributions to Democrats and Republicans roughly equally, both to individual campaigns and to soft money uses.

Meanwhile, individual contributions from executives and other employees in entertainment companies favor Democrats by a 9-to-1 ratio.

Andy Spahn, who manages political affairs for producer Steven Spielberg and his movie company, Dreamworks, said the individual contributions reflect the true colors of the people in the industry who are overwhelmingly Democratic, while the balanced giving by corporate political action committees reflects political reality.

Despite efforts by party leaders to embrace Hollywood, rank-and-file Republicans quietly grumble that Hollywood has a Democratic tilt and mainly employs key lobbyists with Democratic bloodlines.

Besides Valenti, other top guns include former Democratic congressional aides such as Richard Bates of Walt Disney Co., former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And despite the industry's attempts to appear bipartisan, many lawmakers still think they are dealing with Democrats.

"I sometimes wonder if the industry thinks we are still in the 1960s and President Kennedy is in the White House," said Rep. Scott Klug, R-Wis.

In one recent battle, libraries and universities found sympathy among Republican lawmakers skeptical of Hollywood's motives in promoting tougher copyright laws.

Valenti said there is unity in the industry on a plethora of issues involving copyright coverage for movies, compact discs, software and other forms of intellectual property. "These are treasures that need to be protected," Valenti said.

The latest battle pitted Hollywood against librarians over an amendment to HR2281.

Klug said the battle provided a prime example of what will likely be a continuing problem for Hollywood: a lack of sympathy among Republicans.

Hollywood argues that the bill is an essential implementation of two international treaties to strengthen copyright protection for digitally produced works such as compact discs. But a sharp dispute broke out when libraries and universities argued that software and recorded movies and music deserved no more protection than books, which can be bought or lent for free to unlimited numbers of researchers and library patrons.

In the heat of the debate, Valenti argued that the tough position taken by the American Library Association would bring down the "entire fabric of intellectual property protection."

Klug's compromise amendment, adopted July 17 by voice vote by the Commerce Committee, called for a two-year delay in issuing federal regulations aimed at stopping copies from being made of digitally recorded material such as software and compact discs. It would permit regulators to grant waivers for lawful users of works covered by copyright. The amendment helped clear the way for passage of the bill. The House passed the bill by voice vote Aug. 4. (Story, p. 2182)

The battle left bruised feelings on both sides.

"When it comes right down to it, Hollywood does not have much of a constituency. There are libraries and universities all over the country," Klug said.

The Battles Ahead

Hollywood will likely face more tough battles in Congress.

It remains under pressure to tone down sex and violence in movies and television programming.

In 1996, the industry was virtually forced to unveil a voluntary television rating system. A provision of the 1996 telecommunications law (PL 104-104) gave industry the option of imposing its own system or using guidelines established by the Federal Communications Commission.

Valenti failed in his efforts to convince Congress to apply the movie rating system to television.

The law also required the electronics industry to develop televisions with "v-chip" editing devices that allow viewers to block programming based on ratings. (1996 Almanac, 3-45)

Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass, said the first big test of the ratings would likely come this fall, when the first televisions equipped with the v-chip are expected to hit the market.

Meanwhile, the industry faces continuing threats from potential pirates who would steal its wares, as well as continued criticism of sex and violence in movies and music.

While Hollywood sorts out its legislative agenda, the future of its ties with Republicans are hazy.

Before his death, Sonny Bono, Gingrich's handpicked ambassador, blamed the chilly relations with Hollywood's stars and media barons on years of mutual disdain.

"Members of Congress don't understand the industry," Bono remarked.

On June 25, four days before Gingrich's trip West to meet with studio executives, he, Dreier, Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, and Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., met with lobbyists for the entertainment industry to underscore their willingness to help promote legislation for Hollywood.

Valenti said the industry hoped to continue cultivating close relations with Republicans. Despite a Democratic pedigree, the former presidential press secretary said his clients relied on him to keep ties to both parties.

"I'm living out my days under the formula of Lyndon Johnson," says Valenti. "You never know when you will need your adversary today to be your friend tomorrow."


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CQ Weekly August 6, 1998
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