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Garcetti, Greuel get most show biz donations in mayor's race

Steven Spielberg is supporting the mayoral campaign of City Controller and former Dreamworks employee Wendy Greuel.
Steven Spielberg is supporting the mayoral campaign of City Controller and former Dreamworks employee Wendy Greuel.
Getty Images
Steven Spielberg is supporting the mayoral campaign of City Controller and former Dreamworks employee Wendy Greuel.
LA Mayoral candidate Jan Perry has the support of actor George Takei.
Getty Images
Steven Spielberg is supporting the mayoral campaign of City Controller and former Dreamworks employee Wendy Greuel.
LA mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti's long list of supporters includes actress Salma Hayek.
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Show business companies and workers have given nearly a million dollars to candidates running in the Los Angeles mayoral race, with Councilman Eric Garcetti getting about half the money.

An analysis by the reporting partnership of 89.3 KPCC and NBC4 found that entertainment companies and their employees, along with actors, donated at least $960,000 in the mayor's race through the third quarter of 2012. Entertainment-related donations will certainly top the million-dollar mark before the March 5 primary election.

Entertainment companies have varied interests in Los Angeles. CBS, for example, owns a billboard company that has to abide by city regulations. NBC Universal has vast real estate holdings in Universal City. Disney owns El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, and parks its cruise ships at the Port of Los Angeles. 

Additionally, TV and movie companies pay more than $5 million a year for permits to film within city limits.

Los Angeles campaign rules limit an individual or company's donations to $1,300 per mayoral candidate in the primary. Individuals who donate must disclose their occupation and employer.  

City Councilman Eric Garcetti, whose district includes Hollywood, has received $488,000, and City Controller Wendy Greuel, who once worked for Dreamworks, has pulled in about one-third of the entertainment industry donations — about $277,000.

The largest single source of entertainment industry campaign dollars is from freelancers. These behind-the-scenes writers, sound, lighting and production employees have given more than $122,000.

Donations also have come from high-profile actors such as George Takei of "Star Trek" fame. He grew up in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II. That experience led him to a lifetime of involvement in local politics, he says, to protect his civil rights.

"In this democracy, the good people have to be actively engaged in the process, holding democracy's feet to the fire," he said in an interview with NBC4 reporter Joel Grover.

Takei gave $1,300 to Councilwoman Jan Perry, a friend whom he admires for her involvement in downtown and Little Tokyo.

"The interests of the motion picture and television business [are] important to those of us who work in it," Takei said. "It is an important part of the Los Angeles economy."

Star-gazers can find many famous names among the givers. Steven Spielberg and David Geffen — two-thirds of the Dreamworks troika — gave to Greuel. So did Tom Hanks.

RELATED: Listing of Hollywood stars, celebrities backing L.A. mayoral candidates

Kevin James, the lone Republican in what is officially a non-partisan race, received money from actor Gary Sinise of "CSI" and "Forrest Gump" fame. Comic actress Amy Poehler, who plays a small-town bureaucrat on NBC's "Parks and Recreation,"  gave the maximum donation to both Perry and Garcetti.

Actors and politicians like to be around each other, and actors like to influence policies, said Bob Stern, former head of the Center for Governmental Studies.

"Politicians court financial support from everybody," Stern told NBC4.  "They don't really care who you are, but they love being associated with famous actors because they have the aura and it gives them access to other people."

But, he said, entertainment companies are more about the bottom line:

"They want permits, they want buildings, they want expansion — perhaps of their studios — and so, just like any other business that wants something from government, they feel they should be giving campaign contributions in order to get access to politicians," Stern said.

Employees of Time-Warner and its subsidiary companies such as HBO, Turner and Castle Rock Entertainment, gave more than $47,000. That's the most of any single employer group.

Disney and its workers came in second with about $30,000. Fox, Viacom, Sony, CBS, NBC/Universal and their workers placed in the top ten donor groups.

City lobbyists and other representatives of the companies were asked to comment on why they or their employees give in the mayor's campaign, but none agreed to an interview.

One company whose employees collectively gave more than $22,000 is Creative Artists Agency. Thirty-eight of its talent agents and executives donated in the mayor's race, mostly for Garcetti.

Mass donations from a single company's workforce can be daunting to people who get involved in a political issue.

Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight,  is trying to get the city to take down big digital billboards — including some owned by CBS Outdoor — that were installed without proper permits.

"The entertainment industry is so powerful in this city, they have so much influence, that it is a big problem," Hathaway said. "Then you have CBS, which is a major player in the entertainment industry and also one of the major owner of billboards, so it's a pretty formidable foe out there."

Employees of CBS and its subsidiary, CBS Outdoor, have given about $12,000 in the mayor's campaign. A company spokeswoman declined to comment on the donations.

What does it all add up to? If you're Eric Garcetti, you can feel confident that you're the entertainment industry's top choice for mayor.  But not so fast. IATSE — the union that represents stagehands, electricians, sound mixers and other technicians — gave solely to Greuel.

Garcetti and Greuel are leading in the overall money race, with each having collected about $2.8 million from all sources. Fourth quarter donations are due from the campaign committees by midnight Jan. 10.

View the full graphicHollywood insiders backing Garcetti, Greuel for mayor

This story was reported by KPCC and partner station NBC4 News as part of an ongoing effort to examine the role money is playing in the Los Angeles mayor’s race.

Editor's note: KPCC reporter Sharon McNary is a volunteer on the Clif Bar Marathon Pace Team, accompanying contestants in the Walt Disney Marathon this weekend in Orlando. The Walt Disney Company provides the team with hotel accommodations during the race weekend.