As Election 2012 nears, Hollywood Republicans are braving the limelight

Hollywood Republicans say for years it was best to keep their heads down and mouths shut to preserve their careers. But Election 2012 and the national debate are luring more conservatives into the open.

It’s been a long time since it was considered cool to be conservative in Hollywood – try since the days of Louis B. Mayer, or maybe early Jimmy Stewart.

But these days, with so much grumbling over everything from President Obama’s lack of support for two anti-piracy bills to a still-fragile economy, right-wing sympathizers are easing, if only a tad, into sight. 

These days, Republicans from every strata of the industry can be seen at monthly gatherings of groups such as Hollywood Republicans or Friends of Abe (that’s Lincoln), with routine attendance numbers ranging from 50 to over a thousand.

This is in distinct contrast to just over a decade ago, says Mark Vafiades, cofounder and past president of the Hollywood Republicans. The actor, who worked for conservative causes in Massachusetts before migrating west in 1998, says he was distressed to find no outlet for his political energy.

Beyond that, he adds, “even talking about being conservative politically seemed threatening to steady work.” He noted that this was something of an unspoken rule. If you wanted to work in Hollywood, and you were a Republican, he says, “you just kept your head down and your mouth shut.”

James Hirsen – a former keyboardist for The Temptations, and now an entertainment lawyer – agrees that for decades in Hollywood there has been a culture of fear around being perceived as out-of-step with the dominant, liberal zeitgeist.

Charlton Heston coined the term closet conservative,” he says with a laugh, adding, “I have heard over and over again stories from rank-and-file people in this town that expressing conservative views can hurt both your social life and be a career killer.”

The mood shifted after the World Trade Center towers were attacked, says Mr. Vafiades. His group had actually formed several months before 9/11, but that event gave the group life and direction.

In 2004, the group helped create videos for various campaigns, he says, noting “this is one of the ways we use our talents in support of the party.” He is quick to point out, however, that coming out of the shadows is still a work in progress. Two of the largest conservative groups in Tinseltown, with memberships topping 1,000, “are still completely secret,” he adds.

This embattled sense of paranoia masks the actual power of the GOP in the entertainment industry, says Steven Ross, author of “Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shape American Politics.”

Liberals have always outnumbered conservatives in Hollywood, but it has always been quality over quantity, he says. “Conservatives in this town don’t know their own history,” he says pointing to the straight line from studio mogul Louis B. Mayer, who mentored Sen. George Murphy, who in turn guided Ronald Reagan

Through that passing of the conservative baton, says Mr. Ross, the Republican Party has had a “major impact on the nature of our government.”

Ross maintains that the right is emerging at the moment with more confidence because they see their views being espoused on the national stage. “We are in a climate right now where conservatives are fearless in announcing their views because of the culture wars,” he says.

The money, however, still lags behind what Democrats have historically shelled out for their candidates. According to the Sunlight Foundation, about 30 percent of the money flowing from the entertainment industry in this campaign has gone to Republican candidates.

However, that may change as the campaign heats up. GOP candidate Mitt Romney reportedly raised a million dollars at a Beverly Hills fundraiser in December and is scheduled to return March 27 for another event.  Studio executives, including former CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Harry Sloan and Lionsgate vice-chairman Michael Burns, have begun to put their money behind their politics, according to the online trade magazine The Wrap. 

Jerry Perenchio, the former chairman and chief executive of Univision, the Spanish-language media giant, gave $2 million to American Crossroads, a conservative super PAC, founded in part by Karl Rove, according to OpenSecrets, the online site for super PAC donations.

Historically, studios have always given to parties – left, right, and center – points out Ross, “anyone who will support legislation that is good for their business.”

High profile celebrities, just like many others, he adds, “are waiting to see who the candidate will be before committing themselves.”

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