Hollywood Democrats Fear Loss of Senate Majority

Alison Lundergan Grimes Senate Race Hollywood
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Ben Affleck, Steven Spielberg, and Barbra Streisand rally to keep party's grip on Senate

One of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s online ads attacking Democratic opponent Alison Grimes featured her picture lined up next to President Obama, Woody Allen and Barbra Streisand.

Get it? Unpopular president + scandalized filmmaker + Hollywood liberal elite.

Such guilt-by-association tactics are typical for Republican campaigns aiming to take advantage of Hollywood support for Democratic opponents. But this year it also underscores showbiz interest in a race that is one of the few opportunities for a Democratic gain in the Senate in a landscape where the party is otherwise playing defense. Fundraisers are trying to instill a sense of urgency among donors on the very real prospect of Democrats losing the Senate majority, and to contribute even if that means setting aside significant policy differences.

“It is enormously challenging,” says producer-manager Keith Addis of the fundraising environment. “But there is a growing level of interest among Democratic players of the serious chances of losing the Democratic majority.” Addis recently hosted Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) at his home for a fundraiser and has been raising for other candidates.

Interest will only increase after Labor Day, when just about any candidate facing a serious challenge is expected to make a final trek to L.A. donor circles. Among the candidates scheduled are Michelle Nunn, seeking one of the few chances of a Democratic pickup of a Senate seat, in Georgia. She is scheduled for a Sept. 9 fundraiser at the home of Michael Kong and Stacy Twilley, with tickets starting at $500.

Losing the Senate “has been a concern for a year,” says Lara Bergthold, principal and partner at campaign and communications firm Rally. “If anything, people are waking up to the idea that it is a real race and possible not to lose. They are shaking off their depression.”

The prospect of full Republican control of Congress also is reflected in the numbers coming from entertainment donors. Democratic House and Senate candidates are still garnering a majority of the contributions from showbiz sources, but the split is 65% to 34%, less lopsided than it was in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The slight shift toward parity reflects the tendency of corporate-level donors to hedge their bets and give to both parties. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is among the top recipients of showbiz money this cycle, according to CRP.

Grimes (pictured) has collected more from entertainment sources than any other candidate this cycle, $668,299 through the end of June, according to the CRP. She has been helped by Jeffrey Katzenberg, who took an early interest in the race last year and the prospect of defeating the Republican Senate leader, and has hosted several events for her. A who’s who of entertainment donors have given to her campaign, including James Cameron, Cameron Diaz, Ben Affleck, J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg.

Grimes and other candidates running in red states have not shown much reticence about raising money from Hollywood, even if it means well-worn attacks from their opponents for mingling with out-out-state elites. Rather, some Democratic incumbents have come to Los Angeles and faced crowds with significant policy differences, on such issues as gun control and the environment.

When Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Begich voted last year on a procedural move that sidelined gun background check legislation, some industry figures predicted a Hollywood backlash.

Some donors have withheld their support, but Pryor and Begich hardly have been shunned. Alan and Cindy Horn hosted both candidates for a fundraiser at their home in March. Addis said that singer Carole King, a longtime supporter of Democrats, called Begich “out of the blue” and offered to work for his re-election. She performed at the recent fundraiser at Addis’ home.

“Donors always have disagreements with the candidates they support and contribute to, and sometimes those disagreements loom large and sometimes less so,” says Andy Spahn, political and philanthropic consultant to Katzenberg, Spielberg and others. “Now it is less so.”

Streisand, who called for significant congressional action on gun control after the Sandy Hook shootings in December 2012, gave to Begich in late December, while Pryor has collected contributions from Katzenberg, Clarence Avant, Universal’s Jeff Shell and Dish Network’s Charlie Ergen.

Addis says that he and other donors have had long conversations with Begich over his stances on some issues, but “the bottom line is Mark Begich can’t always vote the way Southern California progressive Democrats wish he would. A progressive Democrat, who holds all the positions I do, can’t get elected in Alaska.”

He says that he has also tried to interest donors by pointing to the prospect of as many as three Supreme Court openings in the coming years, and the chance that a Democratic Senate could approve progressives to the bench if President Obama’s successor is a Democrat.

“That argument has grabbed people in a visceral and emotional way,” he says.

It’s always difficult to draw donor interest to midterm campaigns, but the challenge may be even greater this cycle. Some donors say they are still exhausted after the record-setting pace of fundraising in 2012, or they are instead looking forward to 2016 and a potential Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy. President Obama has trekked to Los Angeles three times to raise money for midterm candidates, and despite low approval numbers that may ultimately prove to be a drag on campaigns come November, a $1,000-per-person event in July at the home of “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes reached maximum capacity.

Here are the candidates in competitive races who have garnered the most Hollywood support, according to CRP:

Alison Grimes. Katzenberg and Harvey Weinstein recently hosted a fundraiser in New York for Grimes, helping her beat Kentucky fundraising records and nearly match the $11.8 million so far raised by McConnell. An increasing flurry of spending is expected from outside groups on both sides come fall.

McConnell, meanwhile, has seized on Grimes’ out of state donors, and at an event last month against referred to her industry support, saying that they “make fun of us at cocktail parties.”

There’s a question as to whether such attacks work. The celebrities, for instance, have since been removed from McConnell’s spots, and now just feature her, Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

“I don’t think it is in and of itself (damaging), but they are using is as part of a message that she’s not really a part of Kentucky,” Jennifer Duffy of Cook Political Report.

McConnell, meanwhile, has collected industry contributions from DirecTV CEO Mike White and media mogul Jerry Perenchio.

Al Franken. While Franken has been low key when it comes to using his stardom to appear on national media, he has not been shy to raise money from the entertainment industry. Jon Hamm and Amy Poehler have hosted fundraisers for the senator from Minnesota, who has amassed a sizable war chest in anticipation of a tight race for re-election, including about $232,000 from entertainment sources. He’s also capitalized on the creative community’s concerns over such things as net neutrality and the pending merger of Comcast with Time Warner Cable. While he doesn’t appear to be in trouble, he’s undoubtedly aware of the 225-vote margin of victory that first got him into office in 2009.

Mark Pryor. Pryor holds one of the most vulnerable seats, with a Republican opponent Tom Cotton holding a slight lead in Arkansas. With $229,050 in contributions from showbiz, including figures such as Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, he has nevertheless impressed donors that his campaign is not a lost cause.

Mark Udall. Rob Reiner, Ed Zwick, Alan Horn, Spielberg and Streisand are among those who have contributed to Udall, who has collected $170,332 from the industry. Udall raised money earlier this month at Bouchon Bistro in Beverly Hills, with Clarity Partners’ Barry Porter, attorney Tom Hoberman and Dr. Howie Mandel (not to be confused with the comedian with the same name) among the co-hosts. The invite to the event quoted from an AP story on the race noting that Udall had “a tougher battle than he expected and Republicans a new pickup opportunity in their drive to win the chamber’s majority.”

Mark Begich. The Alaska senator recently attended a fundraiser at the home of Addis, raising about $100,000, a sum that can go a long way in the state’s media market. He also raised early from entertainment, drawing contributions from WGA West president Chris Keyser, producer Steve Bing and J.J. Abrams in March 2013. According to CRP, he has raised $170,332 from entertainment sources by the end of June.




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  1. PJ says:

    Really sad that there are supposedly talented people in Hollywood determined to have the most insane and idiotic political positions. Their bad politics make the rest of us suffer under stupid and malevolent policies from demagogues like Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democrat cabal of kakistocrats. Shame on them. No good comes of Hollywood politicking.

  2. Amy Smyth says:

    well said sir! Well said..

  3. They want to keep a Senate that has done nothing but obstruct legislation coming to the floor for a vote for almost five years? Didn’t pass a budget for 4 straight years? Refused to allow a vote to improve Veterans care by firing VA employees who were responsible for patients lack of care?

  4. John Diamond says:

    While he doesn’t appear to be in trouble, he’s undoubtedly aware of the 225-vote margin of victory that first got him into office in 2009……LOL undoubtedly he stole that first election and knows it.

  5. terro says:

    So….the writer is NOT a Conservative then?

  6. mauloa says:

    Hollywood might find better support and attendance to their movies/TV/recordings… if they stayed out of politics. We don’t really take them serious, respect their judgment or give a damn. However, it can backfire when they do – just ask Jane Fonda and Barbra Streisand – they are pariahs. Ben Affleck does some good work for other countries – but it gets lost when he starts telling us how to vote. I buy/watch and spend my money on those I admire – I boycott others. I a may be only one – but I believe I represent most normal, patriotic and God fearing people that make up America.

  7. AlbertG says:

    These people would fail any civics or current events test they were given. It’s a herd and they’re just overpaid sheep – afraid of losing their status, future gigs, or just not getting invited to parties. Motivations are greed, fear and the insecurity of knowing they’d be ostracized for any non-conformity because liberals don’t tolerate dissent and love feeling superior to others.

    If Harvey W. became a Republican tomorrow… they all would too.

  8. Jerry says:

    The biased opening paragraphs accuse Mitch McConnell of “Typical Republican” guilt by association tactics.

    Showing the backers of a candidate is not a guilt by association tactic especially when that candidate hides the values she holds from the voters.

    Are attack ads really typically Republican? Democrats don’t run as many or more attack ads? Democrats don’t accuse Republicans for being funded by elitists?

  9. TruthTeller says:

    The ultra-rich need to retain their majority, so that they can remain ultra-rich while handing out scraps to the little people. The problem is, the Republicans are no better – they just favor another group of ultra-rich. Here’s a clue for you: can YOU afford to donate that much money to politicians? These people are NOTHING like you, and it’s not your best interests they have at heart.

    I love the way this article says that guilt-by-association is “typical for Republicans”, as if the other side is pure of heart. You’ve seen the ads, from both sides. You can’t demonize one group of politicians, and ignore the other group. Well… you can, if your goal is to manipulate readers, and reinforce an “us vs. them” narrative.

    • PJ says:

      Yup. Millionaire Hollywood liberals and billionaires like Soros and Katzenberg will donate big bucks to Democrats to run phony fake ads talking about how Democrats are ‘for the people’. Give us a break. That Democrat party died a generation ago, an effete leftist elitist insane asylum took its place.

  10. Laine Gordon says:

    btw, we know the targeting was just that,..because EVERY ONE of the groups ended up getting, a year or two AFTER the election, the status they had originally applied for.

  11. Jen says:

    Thought the same thing!! Just like a script somebody else wrote it (who can’t spell) and Ted relays the words. We are all laughing at you!!

  12. He Who is without Sin, Cast The First Stone.

  13. Gerald Tejas says:

    For Pete’s sake, hire an editor.

  14. Steve says:

    Also, Bouchon Bistro is overhyped and not really that good.

  15. Mr. Derp says:

    Alison Grimes is so bad she makes McConnell look competent.

  16. b. Mclane says:

    Won’t be spending any money to see Ben Afflicted as Batman either or any other idiot who spends big bucks to keep a destructive party in power.

    • PJ says:

      Ben Affleck just isnt good enough an actor to afford being whacked about politics. And Christian Bale puts all the other Batman actors to shame … except Adam West, lol. :)

  17. It’s never about the people of America, it’s only about the POWER to control the people of America. Take a good, hard look at who wants to control you, and every aspect of your life, the rich, 1% who don’t live in my world.

  18. Joe E in the IE says:

    Aw, gee, I’d cry ’em a river but the EPA wants an environmental impact report, and the IRS will tax the tears, then audit me.

  19. dwdude says:

    montana gone, alaska in trouble and john corzine of nj proves no matter how much money you spend you can still lose

  20. Michael Anthony says:

    Under attacked??? Back to school for you!!! And crime on the rise? Better take another class. Sndcyry something new. Right wing scare tactics are so old school. Just like your entire post”:

  21. Ideation20 says:

    The response is to have a photo of Mitch McConnell lined up Touché Turtle and Sarah Bachmann.
    The Democrats don’t associate Republicans with each other enough. There are some very embarrassing Republicans…..far more than our 44th President or Ms, Streisand
    I’m sure the California Brain trust could out duel some copywriters in Kentucky. Even the chicken stopped using Kentucky. It’s now KFC and the Colonel lives on.

  22. Deidra says:

    It sure sounds like the out of touch and the elite of Hollywood have their fingers and money all over the country. It’s good to know that the offices can be bought by celebrities. As far as I’m concerned most pols are not there to serve the people, they just want to keep their jobs. Too much money is spent to get elected and then their allowed to stay in office too long. There should be term limits and after that your out. Too many of those in office become rich, while not really serving the public.

  23. Rhett E. Column, #SayWhatNews, #AXJ says:

    Reblogged this on forthe1789usconstitution and commented:
    FRANKFORT, KY. — All the stops have been pulled out! The political, social and ecumenical market has been cornered in the Bluegrass State as, yet again, Democrats, Republicans and the Elites in Hollywood come out in force for the Establishment … #SayWhatNews #AXJNews


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