Something interesting is happening in Georgia’s gubernatorial election. Like Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Hollywood has rallied around Stacey Abrams this cycle. Even Oprah is getting involved in the Democrat’s bid for higher office. But Abrams’s appeal to the entertainment industry goes a little beyond her progressive politics.
Georgia offers the industry a competitive 30 percent tax credit, and as a consequence “film and TV production generated about $2.7 billion in direct spending in the 12 months that ended on June 30,” according to Variety.
“Georgia’s incentive is not the richest in the land. Louisiana and New Mexico have tax credits that top out at 40% and 30%, respectively, but if you want to get more than the base 25% in either state, there are a list of qualifications and restrictions. In Georgia, all you have to do is slap on the peach logo” in a production’s credits, Variety noted earlier this month.
Both Abrams and her opponent, Brian Kemp, support the credit. In describing the policy’s importance to Georgia, Abrams told Variety, “It is multibillion-dollars-a-year of economic activity [pumped] into our state. It creates a range of good paying jobs, from barbers to makeup artists to hairstylists to grips and gaffers and writers and directors. It is incredibly important to our economy, and it is dangerous for anyone who is in leadership in our state to put a vital part of our economy in jeopardy.”
The threat she’s alluding to is the potential for the state to enact a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Kemp has pledged to support in some form, although he’s careful to say business interests would be protected in the effort. (Read more about the actual effects of RFRA legislation, courtesy of Mollie Hemingway, here.)
Beneficiaries of Hollywood’s multibillion-dollar annual spending in Georgia worry the industry will boycott the state if any such measures are passed, as has happened elsewhere in recent years. On her website, Abrams pledges to “steadfastly resist any efforts to legalize discrimination that would needlessly cause these industries to stop investing in Georgia.”
There’s obviously a question about whether Hollywood values its monolithically progressive social agenda over profits. But given where the Democratic base is, it’s reasonable to assume that any Republican-passed religious freedom legislation would trigger sharp backlash, which could cause public relations headaches for companies doing business in the state. Whether the noise of outraged progressives would actually affect their bottom lines is another question, but the pressure would be inevitable either way.
In Abrams, Hollywood has a candidate who would both preserve their precious tax credits and promote their progressive social agenda. Either way, people in tony high-rises more than 2,000 miles west of Atlanta are exerting their financial might to influence Georgia’s social policy. It’s the industry’s right to protect its financial interests, and to support candidates who share the same values. We all patronize their products, knowing that celebrities and executives will fling a chunk of the profits at liberal causes.
The effect of the transactional relationship is that Hollywood is in a strong position to dictate social policy in a red state. Correctly sensing cultural tensions, Republican candidates like Josh Hawley in Missouri have emphasized their Democratic opponents’ ties to Hollywood. In his campaign announcement, Hawley warned that Sen. Claire McCaskill will “take their money” and “do their dirty work.” Sen. Ted Cruz has similarly sought to use O’Rourke’s Hollywood connections against him.
Skepticism of coastal elites is a hallmark of the Trump era, and rightfully so. Agree or disagree with RFRA proposals, the motivation to keep one out of Georgia stems in large part from a desire to placate the California and New York-based entertainment industry.
For Abrams, of course, it also happens to comport with her worldview. But there’s no way around the fact that Hollywood is in a position to hold a chunk of Georgia’s economy— think about all those jobs Abrams mentioned,— hostage to its social policy preferences.