Politically, Hollywood is known for glitzy fundraisers for Democrats, like Steven Spielberg and David Geffen headlining A-list events to benefit President Barack Obama.
But a prominent Virginia Republican, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, has made a play for financial and policy support in Hollywood, tapping into a network of conservatives and finding quiet success.
“Eric has been really incredibly attentive and has a deep personal interest in better understanding this industry,” said Craig Haffner, an Emmy-winning television writer and producer.
“I know that there are plenty of friends here, which is why I try to come here and say, ‘Listen, we need your help.’ There’s no better place for someone interested in selling ideas than this town. This is where the professionals are,” Cantor told PJTV in a 2009 interview.
Republicans cite qualities in Cantor that make him an effective fundraiser everywhere, not just in Hollywood: an ability to quickly connect, a remarkable memory for names and careful preparation on the issues important to each audience he faces.
“He was the first guy who ever came out here and knew what our problems were,” said Lionel Chetwynd, a Cantor friend who has been called the “dean of Hollywood conservatives” by Variety, the entertainment industry trade publication. Chetwynd is a writer, producer and director known for his documentaries and historical adaptations.
“There’s always been Republicans in Hollywood, and now they have a voice in Eric,” said Ray Allen, a Cantor senior strategist.
Another dynamic helping Cantor and other Republicans, according to several sources, is that the tough economic climate, coupled with the threat of online piracy, has focused Hollywood’s collective mind on the bottom line.
“There is a strong effort in the industry to ensure that there’s focused attention on both sides of the aisle,” a film industry source said.
On piracy, Hollywood is backing the Stop Online Piracy Act introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas). The legislation faces stiff opposition from major Internet companies headquartered in Silicon Valley, including Google.
Cantor has not taken a position on the legislation, but he has backed other policy priorities of the industry, such as finding a way to counter subsidies that other countries provide their film industries.
In an April 2009 acceptance speech for the American Spirit Award from the Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors, Cantor said, “I have a profound belief in free trade, and so I have always considered quotas and subsidies undermining so many of the truly important things on which we measure freedom,” he said. “But if these practices are to be the habit of other countries, then so be it. We owe it to you to match them subsidy for subsidy, support for support,” according to Variety.