POLLYWOOD | Trading scripts for stumping: A hollywood tradition
By Gerri Miller
It's a fact of our star-struck culture that celebrities wield considerable political clout, but this phenomenon pre-dates the activism of Bono, Angelina and the late Christopher Reeve. They're only following in the footsteps of stars like Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Danny Kaye, who protested the House of Representative's inquiry into Communist influences in the entertainment industry in 1947.
From Audrey Hepburn to Frank Zappa to newly minted lobbyist Jessica Simpson, celebs are bringing attention to their causes, often with tangible results. "If a celebrity is well informed, persuasive and personable, legislators listen," says Erik Huey, an attorney with Venable LLP who helps stars navigate Capitol Hill. "The best lobbyists are ones who can go off script and deal with the various contingencies and are good debaters," he says, ranking Tony Goldwyn, Screen Actors Guild President Alan Rosenberg, and Fran Drescher among the best. "If [Drescher] ever wants to give up acting she could become a lobbyist," Huey says. "She's very comfortable and natural with elected officials and very persuasive."
Drescher, a uterine cancer survivor, lobbies on behalf of gynecologic cancer awareness and funding. "Most women get diagnosed in the late stages and 80 percent of them die," she says. "These statistics get dusty on a shelf and nothing gets done about it. I got famous, I got cancer, and I lived to talk about it. So I'm going to be a whistle blower." Last year, she worked with Sen. Arlen Specter on the Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act, which failed to pass. "People think I should run for elected office," notes Drescher, who doesn't rule it out but thinks she may be more effective as a high-profile advocate who can align herself with a variety of groups and organizations–she also works with the Creative Coalition to lobby for arts education funding and has helped raise $10 million for the cause.
The Creative Coalition, under copresidents Joe Pantoliano and Tony Goldwyn, has also been instrumental in enacting tax incentive legislation to decrease the amount of "runaway" film production, returning it to states including New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Florida and Louisiana. "We can't lobby, we're a nonprofit," says Pantoliano. "But can we make a difference? Absolutely." What does it take to land a lobbying role? According to Creative Coalition executive director Robin Bronk, "The key to successful advocacy—whether celebrity or "civilian"—is having a vested and credible personal connection to the issue, being well-informed and understanding what you are asking a legislator to do," she says. "Any successful advocate has to have an end-goal in mind."