Backstage Backer

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Backstage Backer

He’s the contributor from central casting.

by Kathleen Sharp

#18 Lew R. and Edith Wasserman, Beverly Hills, Calif. Party: Both. $301,088 total contributions

View The Wassermans’ itemized contributions.

The man who helped make a star of Ronald Reagan has for decades also been the Democrats’ dream come true. Even at age 84, Lew Wasserman, the retired chairman of MCA, and his wife continue to channel millions to the Democratic Party.

And their parties! Last year, Lew and Edith threw a soiree for President Clinton in their lush backyard with the likes of Barbra Streisand (#369) and even Republican Kevin Costner attending. Guests paid a $10,000 entrance fee; over $1 million was raised.

It wasn’t always so. Quiet during Joe McCarthy’s Hollywood persecutions, Wasserman became politically active only after trust-busting Attorney General Robert Kennedy told him he couldn’t continue to run both Universal Studios and his MCA talent agency, which had purchased the movie factory. (Wasserman chose the studio.) Although he consistently supported Democrats (rejecting a Cabinet post along the way), Wasserman backed Reagan in 1980. Why? Maybe because Carter’s Justice Department had rejected a new MCA cable network for — once again — antitrust violations.

Wasserman’s shift had roots. In 1952, Reagan, who headed the Screen Actors Guild, had allowed MCA, alone among talent agencies, to produce television shows. MCA repaid the middling actor by having him host a popular series, leading to the revived celebrity that he eventually rode to the White House.

Fast-forward 30 years. When the Reagan administration moved to repeal the FCC rules that prevented networks from producing their own shows — which had garnered Universal millions — only Wasserman’s personal appeal to the president nipped the deregulation bid in the bud. These days, Wasserman may have seen some of his political power shift toward the likes of David Geffen (#42). But, as his 1996 garden party revealed, Wasserman’s no Norma Desmond.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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