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The Great Wall:
Hollywood’s Push for China Trade

In what may turn out to be this year’s most contentious lobbying battle, the highly-anticipated push to permanently grant normal trade relations with China has already sparked a showdown between the nation’s top business interests and labor unions. But those aren’t the only powerful interests looking to influence the landmark trade deal, which congressional leaders and the White House have pledged to bring to a vote before Memorial Day.

The entertainment industry –- which accounted for nearly $10 million in soft money, PAC and individual contributions in 1999 –- also has thrown its hat into the ring, with some of Hollywood’s top executives forming an alliance to lobby in favor of the controversial measure.

The China Trade Relations Committee, organized by the Motion Picture Association of America, includes moguls such as Michael Eisner of the Walt Disney Co., Edgar Bronfman of Joseph E. Seagram & Sons (parent company of Universal Studios, Interscope Records and other media outfits), Sumner Redstone of Viacom Inc. and Gerald Levin of Time Warner.

The group, which will be headed by MPAA lobbyist Jack Valenti, was formed to “persuade Congress to approve” the China trade bill. In a statement, Valenti says he and the other committee members believe it’s in the “long-term interests of our country that we put in place a sensible, enduring relationship with the largest nation on earth.”

In a nutshell, Hollywood sees its chance to gain greater access to China’s largely untapped media market, which currently limits how many U.S. films can be shown in that country. Until recently, China, under Communist rule, was openly hostile to Hollywood, viewing its films as western propaganda. But in 1995, after lobbying from the MPAA and President Clinton, China approved a measure allowing 10 U.S. films to be distributed in that country each year.

Recently, China, in its negotiations to join the World Trade Organization, agreed to double the number of imported U.S. films to 20, while also pledging to open its markets to other American goods, including music. American record companies, which for years have waged campaigns against China’s rampant violations of international copyright laws, would be permitted to establish operations in the country, should the trade measure be approved. That means Hollywood, like other U.S. businesses, could earn millions in additional revenue from its entry into the Chinese market.

The importance of this legislation to Hollywood likely is reflected in the number of high-profile executives who have signed onto the MPAA China Trade Relations Committee. All told, the eight companies that boast members on the committee contributed nearly $2.8 million in soft money, PAC and individual contributions to federal parties and candidates in 1999. Sixty percent of the contributions went to Democrats, the party that seems to be most divided on the China trade issue.

MPAA China Trade Relations Committee Members
Soft Money, PAC & Individual Contributions, 1999*
Organization Committee Members Total Dems Repubs
Time Warner Gerald Levin, Barry Meyer, Alan Horn $668,895 $474,325 $193,320
Joseph E Seagram & Sons Edgar Bronfman, Jr. Ron Meyer $556,129 $373,600 $182,529
Walt Disney Co Michael Eisner, Sandy Litvack $518,227 $297,566 $215,661
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Alex Yemenidjian, Chris McGurk $365,587 $164,750 $200,837
Viacom Inc Sumner Redstone, Jonathan Dolgen, Sherry Lansing, Bill Bernstein $325,811 $215,384 $110,177
News Corp Rupert Murdoch, Peter Chernin, Chase Carey, Bill Mechanic $155,875 $54,375 $101,500
Sony Corp of America John Calley, Mel Harris, Robert Wynne $135,940 $59,450 $75,990
Motion Picture Assn of America Jack Valenti $62,786 $31,553 $31,233

Top Senate Recipients of MPAA Committee
Member PAC & Individual Contributions, 1999*
Rank Name Total
1 John McCain (R-Ariz) $116,812
2 Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass) $50,750
3 Bob Kerrey (D-Neb) $31,803
4 Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) $25,250
5 Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) $22,338
6 Spencer Abraham (R-Mich) $13,500
7 Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) $9,662
8 Charles S. Robb (D-Va) $9,000
9 Kent Conrad (D-ND) $8,000
9 Conrad Burns (R-Mont) $8,000
10 Ernest F. Hollings (D-SC) $7,500

Top House Recipients of MPAA Committee
Member PAC & Individual Contributions, 1999*
Rank Name Total
1 Howard L. Berman (D-Calif) $52,000
2 James E. Rogan (R-Calif) $18,066
3 W. J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La) $14,577
4 Rick A. Lazio (R-NY) $10,442
5 Xavier Becerra (D-Calif) $10,000
6 Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) $9,746
7 Bill McCollum (R-Fla) $9,741
8 Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif) $9,638
9 Michael G. Oxley (R-Ohio) $9,500
10 Bart Gordon (D-Tenn) $8,500
10 Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) $8,500

*Based on FEC data downloaded 3/1/00.