Hollywood donors flood Dems with midterm cash
© Getty Images

Hollywood Democrats are pouring money into the midterm elections, infusing races with cash in a last-ditch push to flip control of Congress.

Some of the country's most famous faces — including Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, Alec Baldwin and Paul Rudd — have been splashing their signatures on big-money checks for House and Senate candidates in recent months.

Streep and actor Jack Black each donated $10,000 in September to a joint fundraising committee that benefits Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE's reelection bid, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) data collected and analyzed by ITK. The Missouri Democrat is locked in a nail-biter with the state's attorney general, Josh Hawley (R). 

ADVERTISEMENT

The top-dollar donations to Democrats perhaps aren't exactly a shocker for fans of Streep and Black. The Academy Award-winning star of “The Post” delivered remarks at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in support of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump preps conspiracy theory to explain faltering economy The ideological divide on vaping has a clear winner: Smokers Biden struggles to hit it off with millennials MORE and has been an outspoken critic of President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative MORE. Streep famously slammed the then-president-elect at last year’s Golden Globes, railing against Trump for imitating a disabled New York Times reporter.

And at the unveiling of his Hollywood Walk of Fame star last month, "School of Rock's" Black referred to the commander in chief as a "piece of shit."

The two performers aren't the only ones coughing up campaign dollars for McCaskill, one of 10 Democratic senators up for reelection in states Trump won. Michael Douglas gave $5,000 to the McCaskill Victory Fund in September.

Mark Harvey calls the rush of Hollywood money in this midterm election "exceptional."

The director of graduate programs at the University of Saint Mary and author of "Celebrity Influence: Politics, Persuasion, and Issue-Based Advocacy" says opposition to Trump has ignited a "sea change in how comfortable celebrities feel intervening at this point."

But the thousands of dollars going toward McCaskill pale in comparison to what some other Hollywood heavyweights are giving ahead of Election Day.

In August, HBO’s "Real Time" host Bill Maher made headlines for giving $1 million to a super PAC affiliated with Senate Democrats. Steven Spielberg gave $200,000 to the same group, the Senate Majority PAC, the same month. The "Ready Player One" director also opened his wallet for a $100,000 donation to the Democrat-boosting House Majority PAC earlier this summer.

A colleague of Spielberg's, "Star Wars: Episode IX" director J.J. Abrams, gave $75,000 to the House Majority PAC in June, along with a $10,000 donation to the Missouri Democratic State Committee.

Barbra Streisand, one of Hollywood's most prominent liberal donors, has kept up her long tradition of political fundraising, giving more than $6,000 to the Democratic group in the Show-Me State, along with a $2,000 contribution to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in late August.

And it’s not only famous names in the entertainment industry — fashion designer Tom Ford offered up $25,000 in August to the DCCC.

Democrats are furiously seeking to reclaim the 23 seats needed to win control of the House. They need to flip only two Senate seats to take the upper chamber, but face a far tougher map there.

An analysis by The Hill last week found that more than 70 Democratic House hopefuls have outraised the GOP incumbents they’re challenging, and Hollywood stars want to help fuel the cash gap.

Texas House candidate MJ Hegar (D), whose campaign created a buzzy ad called "Doors" in June that quickly went viral, was on the receiving end of a $2,700 donation from Rosie O'Donnell. “Better Call Saul’s” Bob Odenkirk and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns gave $1,000 and $1,500, respectively, to Hegar's run against incumbent Rep. John CarterJohn Rice CarterDemocrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges Texas Democratic Senate candidate says she does not support Green New Deal Population shifts set up huge House battleground MORE (R).

Alec Baldwin spoofs the commander in chief nearly weekly on "Saturday Night Live," and he ponied up $2,700 to Liuba Grechen Shirley. The New York Democrat is running against 13-term Republican Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) Thomas KingFirst House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons The 9 House Republicans who support background checks Progressive gun control activist on NRA: 'Don't count them out' MORE (R-N.Y.). Shirley’s campaign also announced this week that comedian Amy Schumer would host a comedy show fundraiser for the candidate just days ahead of the election.

"Ant-Man and the Wasp" star Paul Rudd threw some cash at a "dead even" House race in New York's 19th District, giving $3,000 last month to Democrat Antonio Delgado's campaign against Rep. John FasoJohn James FasoThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority GOP House super PAC targets two freshman Dems with new ads Tax law failed to save GOP majority MORE (R).

"I think there's also a kind of commercial element going on. And that's not to say they're selfishly or shamelessly promoting themselves," Harvey said. On the contrary, he says, "because of a polarized America, there are celebrities who feel like they kind of have to take sides because to stand on the fence at this point creates more problems."

Bette Midler — an outspoken Trump critic — gave nearly $9,000 to the Democratic National Committee in August. "The Closer" actress Kyra Sedgwick doled out $5,000 in June to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, as well as smaller donations to several Democrats in House races across the country.  

"I think it’s a time when people are more politically active and engaged than they have been at any other point in my life in America," Kumail Nanjiani told ITK in an interview this week.

The "Big Sick" and "Silicon Valley" star gave thousands of dollars last year to Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump preps conspiracy theory to explain faltering economy Sanders, Warren back major shift to fight drug overdoses Rendell: Biden 'baked in' as Democratic nominee MORE's (D-Mass.) reelection campaign.

“I mean, I don’t know if anything is going to make a difference," Nanjiani said when asked if he thought the cash flow from Hollywood could make a dent in the midterm races. 

"I hope it will,” he said.

Republicans have traditionally pounced on donations for their political rivals coming from “out-of-touch Hollywood.”

“Liberal Hollywood elitists who don’t share our values are pouring money into Clarke Tucker’s campaign,” says an ad released earlier this month by Rep. French HillJames (French) French HillA true believer in diversity, inclusion Restore Pell Grant eligibility to people in prison Here are the lawmakers who will forfeit their salaries during the shutdown MORE (R-Ark.). Some of Tucker’s donors include “The Good Place” star Ted Danson, Tony Goldwyn and David Arquette.

“Hollywood people might be able to memorize a speech, but we don’t look to them for the most part for being great political thinkers — even though they try to pretend they are,” says GOP strategist Rich Galen, who served as press secretary to former Vice President Dan Quayle during his time in Congress.

“I don’t hang around very much in Hollywood,” says Galen, “but I suspect it has to do with bragging rights at cocktail parties more than anything else.”

While a rush of donations from left-leaning Hollywood to Democratic candidates likely comes as no surprise to political race watchers, Republican candidates are all but completely shut out from show business dollars in the weeks leading up to Nov. 6.

“If there was something after Z-lister, those are the kind of celebrities Republicans get,” Galen says with a laugh.

Former football star John Elway, for one, tossed nearly $15,000 to Colorado state treasurer Walker Stapleton (R) in August in his gubernatorial bid against Rep. Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisColorado governor pokes fun at FaceApp Number of openly LGBTQ elected officials rose nearly 25 percent since 2018: report GOP gun rights activist arrested for flashing handgun at U.S. marshal MORE (D) to replace the term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper (D). The ex-Denver Broncos quarterback also gave $10,000 in August to the Colorado Republican Committee. In May, he donated $1,700 to Rep. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanBottom Line Koch political arm endorses Colorado Sen. Gardner 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform MORE's (R-Colo.) campaign, who's in a competitive race with Democratic challenger Jason Crow. 

Whether the deluge of Hollywood dollars continues beyond the midterms largely depends on the Election Day outcome.

"When people get what they want, they tend to be a little bit complacent sometimes, and it’s hard to maintain that enthusiasm," Harvey said.

But if Democrats aren't "completely successful in flipping the House and Senate, if one or the other remains," he said, expect to see the celebrity money train to keep on rolling.

"I just look at the issues I care about and donate money to the people who will further those causes. It’s as simple as that,” Nanjiani says about his political donations. "You know, we'll see what happens."