August 7, 1998
By Amanda Covarrubias
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
LOS ANGELES - He's one of the top political campaign contributors in California. And he doesn't want to talk about it.
Billionaire entertainment mogul A. Jerrold Perenchio, chairman and owner of the nation's largest Spanish-language television network, has put his mark on California's political scene over the years by giving millions of dollars to candidates, referendums and initiatives on state ballots.
But Perenchio, 67, who earned his first billion last year and has been listed among the nation's richest people for more than a decade, refuses to explain how he determines which campaigns he will contribute to and why.
The media chief, who co-produced TV's landmark ``All in the Family,'' turned down repeated interview requests from The Associated Press.
``It's his policy not to do interviews,'' said spokeswoman Anne Corley.
Perenchio, who lives with his third wife in the $20 million Bel-Air estate once used in ``The Beverly Hillbillies,'' was among the state's 2,837 designated ``major donors'' in 1997.
That means he contributed at least $10,000 to political campaigns. Contribution reports filed with the secretary of state's office show Perenchio gave $2.3 million to statewide political campaigns from 1993 to 1997.
He was listed last year by Mother Jones magazine as one of the top 400 contributors to political parties and candidates nationwide, donating $163,000.
Earlier this year, Perenchio - who has three adult children - made one of the largest personal contributions ever to a state initiative campaign: $1.5 million to defeat the anti-bilingual education measure, Proposition 227. The initiative was approved by voters in June.
Antonia Hernandez, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a key opponent of Proposition 227, declined to talk about Perenchio's contribution.
``She doesn't know him very well, he's only an acquaintance,'' said spokeswoman Alicia Maldonado.
As a private citizen, who just happens to rule the nation's Spanish-language airwaves, Perenchio is under no legal obligation to explain his contributions beyond filing the required financial statements.
It is unclear which campaigns Perenchio will contribute to in the November general election. But if history is any indication, his largesse will be spread among a cross-section of candidates and issues.
One of his beneficiaries, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, met Perenchio 10 years ago when they fought a plan by Occidental Petroleum to drill for oil in Pacific Palisades.
``He was very supportive of what we were trying to do,'' Yaroslavsky said. ``When he gets into something, he does it big time. He doesn't dabble.''
Yaroslavsky estimated Perenchio contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the anti-drilling effort and just as much to his own campaigns for Los Angeles City Council and supervisor.
``He's probably been one of my top contributors over the years, but he's never picked up the phone to ask for anything,'' Yaroslavsky said. ``I think it is unusual.''
Perenchio was recently named co-chairman of a group of business leaders trying to lure the 2000 Democratic National Convention to Los Angeles and has agreed to contribute a minimum of $100,000 to help underwrite convention-related costs.
``The guy is a doer and it's clear he cares about the city,'' Yaroslavsky said. ``He does-n't get pushed around by the whims of the day. He's his own man.''
Perenchio got his start in show business 45 years ago as a talent agent and worked his way up the Hollywood ladder until he bought his own media company, Univision Communications Inc., two years ago. Along the way, he produced television shows and feature films, including ``Blade Runner'' and ``Driving Miss Daisy.''
Perenchio also dabbles in real estate development. As part-owner of Malibu Bay Co., he has holdings throughout the famed celebrity enclave and even built his own golf course near Pacific Coast Highway.
``He's very modest and very down-to-earth,'' says his friend, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who added that one of the first calls he received upon assuming office came from Perenchio asking what he could do to help.
If one believes money buys influence, then Perenchio seems to be playing to both sides in this year's governor's race. Financial statements show he gave $200,000 to state Attorney General Dan Lungren, a fellow Republican, and contributed to the campaigns of two of Lungren's Democratic rivals in the June primary: $100,000 to Lt. Gov. Gray Davis and $50,000 to U.S. Rep. Jane Harman.
``I guess he's hedging his bets,'' said Davis campaign spokesman Chris Campana, adding that Davis and Perenchio are acquainted but not close friends.
Born in Fresno, Perenchio promoted music acts at fraternity parties while studying at the University of California, Los Angeles. After graduating in 1954, he worked as a talent agent. Ten years later, he founded his own agency, which represented stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando.
In the 1970s, he promoted the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier heavyweight fight at Madison Square Garden and the Bobby Riggs-Billie Jean King tennis match. He also become a pioneer in pay-per-view TV by founding National Subscription Television.
After selling his talent agency, he moved full time into television and feature film production. He joined forces with Norman Lear to create Tandem Productions, the company that created ``All in the Family.'' He also served as chief executive officer of Embassy Pictures from 1973 to 1983.
Lear, who contributes to liberal causes and founded People for the American Way to counter the religious right, declined to be interviewed about his former partner.
In 1992, Perenchio bought Univision with Mexican and Venezuelan partners, assuming control of the nation's largest Spanish-language broadcast company. Univi-sion holds an 80 percent audience share of the Spanish-TV market in the United States.
Although Perenchio is not Hispanic and does not speak Spanish, he hired someone who fills the bill on both counts. Former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros was named president and chief operating officer last year.
Riordan said he met Perenchio about 15 years ago and the two became close friends in the past six years
``He's sort of a very interesting person in that he lives a grand lifestyle, but he's such a down-to-earth guy that I guarantee you, if he lost every penny tomorrow, it wouldn't bother him,'' Riordan said. ``He could live like a king or a poor person. Jerry Perenchio just wants to be Jerry Perenchio.''