Shh! Hollywood’s Secret GOP Jamboree
Most politicians make their Hollywood debuts at lavish fund-raisers or intimate house parties. But Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO now running for a U.S. Senate seat in California, made her entrance at an event organized by the Friends of Abe.
For those unfamiliar with the highly secretive club of conservatives in the entertainment business, the name refers to iconic Republican Abraham Lincoln, not Abe Vigoda. Mostly meeting informally at the West Hollywood greasy spoon Barney’s Beanery, the GOP-leaning crowd held its annual blowout in mid-June at a sprawling horse ranch near the Ventura County line. Hosted by “CSI: NY” star Gary Sinise, hundreds of actors, directors and craftspeople came out for the right-wing Woodstock.
The Friends of Abe have been around for a few years now, and conservative frustration with the Democratic control of Washington might be helping them flourish. Indeed, as politicians on both sides of the aisle court such nontraditional groups as the Tea Party and Netroots, the conservative Hollywood clique is hoping for real relevance as Election Day nears.
As one of the group’s biggest names, “Frasier” star Kelsey Grammer’s presence at the gathering was deemed essential enough to be beamed in via video. Former “Weekend Update” anchor Dennis Miller from “Saturday Night Live” delivered sharp Barack Obama wisecracks, Lee Greenwood performed his patriotic brand of country music, and Oscar winner Jon Voight helped emcee. There were Tea Party activists like Andrew Breitbart, Fox News personalities including Greg Gutfeld, politicos like House minority whip Eric Cantor of Virginia and even gay Republicans like “Desperate Housewives” creator Marc Cherry.
About a thousand people shelled out $200 each to attend, but sources said much of the night’s estimated $200,000 take went to cover expenses and catering.
Fiorina received a rousing ovation when she was introduced, but applause doesn’t cost money. Cash for television buys is especially important in the large state of California — during one week in May, candidates spent $10 million.
“Obviously, the FOA folks will vote for GOP candidates like Carly and Meg Whitman,” an attendee who requested anonymity said. “But I haven’t heard the sound of many wallets opening.”
The stakes are as high as ever: Fiorina is battling for Democrat Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat, and former eBay CEO Whitman is up against Jerry Brown in the governor race. Both Democratic opponents are among the right’s favorite punching bags. What’s more, field polls released a month ago saw both races locked in statistical dead heats, with the Dems holding only tiny leads within the margin of error. (A Public Policy Institute of California poll last week also noted the tight races.)
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks national candidates, Boxer received $677,000 from the movie, TV and music industries, while Fiorina’s take from showbiz donors is so small, it doesn’t even register in her Top 20 ranking of business contributors (not surprisingly, her top donors come from the securities and investment industry). The National Institute on Money in State Politics, the only independent organization that tracks donations to gubernatorial races, calculated that — at least through March 17, the most recent available numbers — Brown received $330,000 from entertainment industry sources and Whitman’s take from the sector was $45,000.