Celebs crave spotlight -- for issues

Hollywood insiders get in the game at the DNC

DENVER -- The Hollywood contingent has arrived at the Democratic National Convention, and they've got much more than photo ops on their minds.

They've got issues -- in a good way.

In a change from the not-so-distant past, when Hollywood was revered more for fundraising and the star power it could bring to campaigns, today's celebrities are asking for more time and effort than a quick handshake. With such advocacy groups as the One Campaign and the Creative Coalition, among others, celebrities aim to raise awareness of issues as varied as affordable housing, AIDS in Africa and arts education.

"These are folks who show up and show up with their celebrity but are using it to make sure people are conscious of an issue and raise awareness," said Tom Sheridan, a longtime political consultant to the entertainment industry.

As the conventions have shifted away from backroom deals and floor fights, they've become more of a place where party activists and others can rally around not just a presidential candidate but also an issue that matters most to them. In addition to the 30,000 delegates and journalists, there are probably just as many here who are advocates, activists or protesters.

It's no different for the celebrities.

"These conventions are the focus of all media, and so when you do have politically active celebrities who have become involved in an issue or cause, what better place for them to go than where the entire national press corps is gathered in one place," ABC News political director David Chalian said.

"It has got the potential to be a fun little sideshow," NBC News political director Chuck Todd said. "It's becoming too much of a sideshow, to be honest. It looks like every celebrity who wants to dip their toe into politics wants to show up in Denver."

Creative Coalition executive director Robin Bronk said her group is comprised of celebrities with a purpose.

"We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture; for good or for bad, that's the world we live in," she said. "What we do is use that celebrity power for the common good."

She tells Hollywood types that they have a platform and thus an obligation to do good.

"You can't be a red carpetbagger," Bronk tells them. "You need to get involved in an issue that means something to you."

Celebrity issues have become problematic among Democrats, who have seen Barack Obama decline in the polls in part because of GOP ads calling attention to the candidate's star power.

Actor Tim Daly, an Obama supporter, said the ads miss the point. Most people know the difference between the celebrity of Obama and Lindsay Lohan, he said.

"For people who can't think in a nuanced way and want to say that a celebrity is one thing, then it's going to be a problem," Daly said. "For people who understand that public figures are going to come in all shapes and sizes, it's fine."

One thing is certain, however: If it weren't for the WGA strike, there would be more celebrities here. The back-to-back conventions (next week's Republican confab is in St. Paul, Minn.) have made it a scheduling nightmare for celebrities who want to go to one or both.

"It's like having the Emmys, Oscars and Grammys within two days of each other in different cities," Bronk said.
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