Democrats have begun distancing themselves from Harvey Weinstein, beginning with the reelection campaign of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)’s announcement that he would donate a $2,700 campaign contribution from Harvey Weinstein to charity. The move signals that the allegations of sexual harassment against the politically well-connected mogul are becoming a liability.
Other senators have followed suit, including Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who announced that they too would be donating Weinstein’s contributions to charitable nonprofit groups.
“Senator Leahy is donating Mr. Weinstein’s contributions to the Women’s Fund at the Vermont Community Foundation, specifically the Change the Story Initiative,” a spokeswoman for the senator said.
Weinstein gave the money to Leahy’s re-election campaign in 2016. That cycle, he also gave to Blumenthal, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and $30,890 to the Democratic National Committee, in addition to Hillary Clinton’s reelection campaign.
This year, Weinstein has given $5,400 to the campaign of Heinrich, who is up for reelection in 2018. Heinrich’s campaign announced that the money would be given to a non-profit organization in New Mexico.
“Women shouldn’t have to face sexual harassment at work,” the Heinrich campaign said. “Martin is giving Mr. Weinstein’s donation to Community Against Violence.”
Blumenthal will donate Weinstein’s $5,400 contribution to the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence, a spokeswoman for the senator said.
Warren will also donate $5,000 in contributions from Weinstein for her 2012 campaign to charity, a spokeswoman said.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Weinstein has given more than $1.4 million in total to federal candidates, parties, and political action committees since 1990. His list of contributions stretches back nearly 20 years, and he has given to dozens of campaigns and party committees.
The fact that senators are now giving his money to charity is likely to put pressure on other lawmakers who have collected money from Weinstein, especially considering right-wing news outlets are already highlighting his political connections on the left.
The Republican National Committee seized on the scandal, and put out a statement from chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. She said that “during three-decades worth of sexual harassment allegations, Harvey Weinstein lined the pockets of Democrats to the tune of three quarters of a million dollars. If Democrats and the DNC truly stand up for women like they say they do, then returning this dirty money should be a no brainer.”
Weinstein’s contribution list also includes past donations to Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), all of whom are cited as potential contenders for the 2020 presidential race.
Weinstein was a bundler for Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, and helped organize a star-filled Broadway fundraiser at the St. James Theatre in the waning weeks of the campaign last year. When she was honored in 2013 by the environmental group Oceana, Weinstein was seated next to her and said, “Please run for president” when he got on stage to introduce her. He also hosted or co-hosted multiple fundraisers for Obama, including an event at his West Village home in 2011, which he co-hosted with Anna Wintour.
Still, Weinstein is not the most prolific of all bundlers in the Democratic party, nor has he topped Hollywood in shelling out vast sums to the array of SuperPACs. But he maximized his connections to the political elite like few others in the business.
Weinstein is partially responsible for First Lady Michelle Obama announcing the best picture winner at the Oscars in 2013. Later that year, he appeared at a career workshop that the First Lady hosted for high school students. She referred to him as “a wonderful human being, a good friend and just a powerhouse.” The Obamas’ daughter, Malia, interned at the Weinstein Co.
In Washington, Weinstein has had a penchant for maximizing the attention and cachet that comes from associating a movie with policymakers and serious issues. The same night that he appeared at the 2013 White House event with high school students, the Obamas hosted a screening of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” a Weinstein Co. movie that was also an Oscar contender.
He also helped arrange a meeting between “Silver Linings Playbook” star Bradley Cooper and Vice President Joseph Biden, who was then tasked with coming up with a set of recommendations to address gun violence in the wake of the Newtown shooting massacre in 2012. One of the issues was mental health, a theme of “Silver Linings Playbook.”
The Obamas have not made any statement on Weinstein, and a spokesman for the Clintons did not return a request for comment.
Weinstein also has been more outspoken than other donors and fundraisers, particularly when it comes to issues about gun control. In 2014, he announced a movie starring Meryl Streep that would take on the political influence of the National Rifle Association. However, he has also received a lot of pushback from gun rights advocates about the violence in the movies he has distributed.
Several politically active donors told Variety that they expect candidates to steer clear of Weinstein for the time being, but they would not be surprised if he was able to gravitate back.
It puts Democrats and leftward causes in a difficult spot, as Weinstein has been a benefactor well beyond individual campaigns. Last year, he gave $10,000 to the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Votes initiative.
One political consultant said that another indicator of whether Weinstein would be persona non grata in the world of politics would be if a gun control advocacy group refused to accept a contribution from him. Weinstein indicated in his statement on Thursday that he would devote his time to taking on the NRA.