Washington Feels Hollywood’s Heat
ON an 80-degree morning in mid-October, Senator Barbara Boxer huddled in a windowless conference room in her Capitol Hill office to hear from a group of fashionably dressed Southern California women whose sun-streaked blond hair and unseasonable tans belied a less-than-sunny mission: to push the government to address global warming.
“We represent the entertainment community,” said Kelly Chapman Meyer, whose husband, Ron, is the president of Universal Studios Group. “We use our resources and our connections to push for environmental issues.”
“We want a climate bill that’s not going to die,” said Colleen Bell, a philanthropist and writer whose husband, Bradley, is the executive producer and head writer of the soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful.”
Ms. Meyer told Ms. Boxer, a Democrat who is one of her home senators, that warmer weather has intensified climate-related problems in the lapping waves near her house in Malibu. “I’m a surfer,” she said. “The algae bloom is insane.”
Ms. Boxer said she was working to push climate legislation through the Senate, adding that she also worried about global warming. “We can see it happening, we can feel it happening,” she said. “The fashion industry is so upset because they can’t sell their cashmere sweaters.”
When you are the wife of a movie mogul, you can do more than simply complain about the unusual weather that is wreaking havoc with your favorite surf break. Equipped with a Hollywood aura and impeccable social connections — not to mention sheaves of data-filled talking points — you can count on at least 20 minutes’ worth of respectful attention in Washington, with legislators willing to throw open their doors for activists who share the last names of some deep-pocketed donors.
Which is why a team of eco-wives from the entertainment industry descended on Washington last week, hoping to ride a bit of the momentum from Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize in a city that can be unusually receptive to Hollywood celebrity, even if it has been deadlocked over environmental legislation this year.
The five women — members of the Leadership Council, which was founded seven years ago by Laurie David, the soon-to-be-ex-wife of Larry David, and Elizabeth Wiatt, whose husband, Jim, is the chief executive of the William Morris Agency — raced through private meetings with 11 senators and representatives in 29 hours. They argued that the eerily muggy autumn should inspire more than chit-chat in the elevators of Capitol Hill. “These people have stacks of paper on their desk this thick,” Ms. Meyer said of the lawmakers, holding her palm at eye level. “The point is to make sure that we get our agenda at the top of the pile.”
With their connections and fund-raising abilities, they have a better chance than the average constituent. The fresh-faced, athletic Ms. Meyer is an ardent skier who grew up in Colorado. She is a chairwoman of the 29-member Leadership Council (formerly the Action Forum), an all-star team of greens working the moneyed hillsides of Los Angeles County, from Beverly Hills to Malibu.
Besides Ms. Meyer and Ms. Bell, the team included Dayna Kalins Bochco, the president of Steven Bochco Productions (her husband, Steven, is a creator of “NYPD Blue”), Gwen McCaw (her husband, John, is a telecommunications billionaire), and Linda Stewart, who runs a branding and advertising firm called Cucoloris. (Ms. David was home tending to other matters.)
Glamour does have the power to open doors in Washington, said T. R. Goldman, a senior editor at Roll Call, who oversees lobbying coverage on Capitol Hill.
“Washington has a bit of an insecurity complex when it comes to dealing with Hollywood,” Mr. Goldman said. “When confronted by the might of Hollywood, these people listen.”
But some observers roll their eyes when Hollywood tries to muscle its way through Congress. Kenneth P. Green, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said the women are “entitled to their opinion, but they’re laymen, essentially.” Hollywood, he said, lives far away “from the economic lives of normal people who don’t have drivers and don’t get flown on Learjets.” Would the media, he added, “be covering it if a group of plumbers came to town?”
Starting with a 9 a.m. meeting on Wednesday with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, the women met with 10 congressional Democrats — including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — and one Republican, Senator Susan Collins of Maine. They urged quick passage of a bill banning the export of mercury to developing nations, then moved onto the big issue, global warming, arguing for increased fuel efficiency for vehicles and stronger renewable energy provisions in energy bills that are before both houses.
On Wednesday morning, Ms. Meyer and Ms. McCaw, a former model, discussed how they would handle being young grandmothers when the children from their husbands’ prior marriages had children of their own.
“You’ll be the hot grandma, I’ll be the kind-of-hot grandma,” Ms. Meyer said.
An hour later, they were meeting in the Hart Senate Office Building with Michael Morgan, a staff member in the office of Senator Benjamin Cardin, Democrat of Maryland. There, the women made a data-intensive plea for legislation to prevent the American export of mercury to India and China.
Mr. Morgan listened, looking professorial, then promised to help push a Senate bill.
“We’re looking forward to making progress on global warming,” Mr. Morgan said. “It’s the climate for it — no pun intended.”
AROUND 1 p.m., the women settled in for a lunch appetizer of tuna tartare at Charlie Palmer Steak, an upscale restaurant a short cab ride from the Capitol.
They acknowledged the negative stereotypes applied to upscale Hollywood greens, but said they could live with the sniping.
For instance, last year, Ms. Bell opened the Holmby Hills house she shares with her husband and their four children to an “eco-salon” attended by John Cusack, Kelly Lynch and Kirsten Dunst.
Ms. Stewart, for her part, recalls nudging Cameron Diaz toward buying a hybrid, now the car of choice for all the women on the team.
“I pimped my Prius!” Ms. Bochco added. “It’s got waves on the side, pinstripes and chrome rims that look like cabochon sapphires.”
Ms. Meyer helped build a showcase house out of sustainable materials called project7ten in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice, though the Meyers do not live in it.
“You have to understand,” Ms. Stewart said, “They live in the most beautiful house in the world.”
And they are fully aware of the stereotype of the Learjet liberal, which is one reason the women said they flew commercially to Washington.
Ms. McCaw, whose husband owned a jet when they married in 1998, agreed it was a difficult issue. “If they had airplanes that were solar-powered, we’d fly them,” she said. Until then, she said they buy carbon offsets.
After lunch, it was Ms. Meyer’s turn to live up to this standard. She had to race to New York to attend a cancer benefit with Brooke Shields that evening. So she eschewed a proper lunch for breadsticks and, she joked, “a pound of butter.”
Hustling toward a taxi, she smiled wearily and murmured, “It’s not easy being green.”