The September issue of the Atlantic offers a toothsome literary treat: Eric Alterman’s “The Hollywood Campaign,” detailing exactly how Democrats raise some of their biggest money. They “head for the hills–Beverly Hills,” as the article’s subhead says.

Politically speaking, Alterman is about as liberal as they come, with his very own entry in the Lying Liars bakeoff, When Presidents Lie: A History of Deception and Its Consequences. But he’s a funny-as-hell writer and this “miner’s map for the liberal Gold Rush” is reported to the hilt. His main point is that Democratic political contenders and their pet liberal causes couldn’t survive without the life-giving ichor of film-industry dough:

“There really is gold in them thar hills. During the 2000 election cycle, zip-code areas on average yielded slightly more than $35,000 in political contributions, while residents of Beverly Hills, 90210, ponied up slightly more than $6.2 million. In the same year Pacific Palisades, Bel Air, and Brentwood were each good for $1.7 million to $3.3 million. In 2002 entertainment ranked first among all industries funding Democratic Party committees, and roughly 80 percent of the industry’s party contributions went to Democratic candidates and committees; just 20 percent went to the Republican Party. From 1989 up to the start of the current election cycle Hollywood had given the party nearly $100 million for federal elections alone — close to the $114 million Republicans received from their friends in the oil and gas industries. Together with organized labor and the trial bar, Hollywood is now one of the three pillars of the Democrats’ financial structure. Say what you will about the rigors of fundraising, it’s got to be a lot more fun to hang poolside at Pacific Palisades with Sharon Stone and Cameron Diaz than at the annual AFL-CIO retreat in Bal Harbour with John Sweeney and Richard Trumka.”

Alterman divides the fundraisers into certain basic “phenotypes,” as he calls them: 1) “The Actor”: personally a cheapskate when it comes to giving, but generous in “donating” his or her mere presence as a come-on at fundraising parties where others will be soaked; 2) “The Activist”: the rare-breed character who actually does the work of raising the dough; 3) “The Consultant”: the man or woman who screens the thousands of efforts to get political hands into screen stars’ pockets; 4) “The Player”: that’s the big-time guy like Rob Reiner who can actually call the chairman of the Democratic National Committee to get something done (Reiner could even get Bill Clinton on the line back in Bill’s presidential days).

One of the surprising things that Alterman reveals is that, with the exception of Barbra Streisand and a few other generous political donors, Hollywood actors are notorious cheapskates (it’s the producers and others who pony up the Dem dollars) and sometimes not exactly effective spokesmen for their causes. Writes Alterman:

“This sort of public figure inspires a degree of cynicism — quite properly, given how little is often required of the actor in terms of knowledge or commitment. Actors can often do as much harm as good to their causes. Madonna, for instance, did not turn out to be a terrifically effective spokesperson for Rock the Vote when it was later revealed that she had not bothered to vote in previous presidential elections. In an ad she was shown bikini-clad and flanked by two male dancers who alternated spanking her, illustrating her slogan ‘If you don’t vote, you’re going to get a spanking.'”

Not quite all Hollywood celebrities are goofball liberal Dems, Alterman points out. On the Republican side there’s Mel Gibson, Charlton Heston, Tom Selleck, Bruce Willis (mmm!), Shannen Doherty, Chuck Norris, Kelsey Grammer–and of course, Ah-nuld. Whew!