WASHINGTON — From Ben Affleck and Susan Sarandon to Anna Wintour and Willie Nelson, celebrities lined up to give money — and a dash of star power — to their favorite Democratic presidential candidates ahead of this week’s first quarter fundraising deadline.
For months, candidates in the crowded field of more than a dozen contenders have aggressively courted key figures in music, television, publishing and film, who are one of the party’s most reliable sources of campaign cash. Although many donors remain on the sidelines, contributing to lackluster fundraising hauls, an early snapshot included in the campaign finance reports submitted to the Federal Election Commission this week offers a glimpse of who is drawing attention from entertainment industry in the early stages of the race.
“When you talk about Hollywood, yes, we are talking about movie stars and writers and directors, but we are also talking about people with decades of experience with presidential campaigns,” said Yusef Robb, a longtime California political strategist. “Earning support from somebody with a lot of connections in the political world couples with their star power, which people in the chattering classes notice.”
California Sen. Kamala Harris has long-standing relationships with major entertainment industry figures in her home state. But former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke , Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg are also among the candidates who count celebrities as donors.
So far, few donors are bundling large sums of money for candidates by asking their friends, family and colleagues to give, too. But many have given individually, which is limited under campaign finance law to a $2,800 contribution during the primary election, followed by another $2,800 earmarked for the general election campaign.
Last month, Harris was feted at the Pacific Palisades home of director J.J. Abrams and his wife, Katie McGrath, in a gathering attended by Hollywood powerbrokers, including TV hitmaker Shonda Rhimes. Harris also has received money from Affleck, who gave $2,800; actress Eva Longoria, who gave $5,400; composer Quincy Jones, who gave $2,800; and former “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm, who gave $1,000.
O’Rourke, a former punk rocker, received $2,800 from a fellow Texan, country music icon Nelson, as well as $1,850 from Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and $2,800 from Dave Matthews Band violinist Boyd Tinsley. He also took in $5,600 from Vogue editor-in-chief Wintour, $1,500 from comedian and “Breaking Bad” actor Bob Odenkirk, $2,500 from Texas film director Richard Linklater and $350 from “Saturday Night Live” star Cecily Strong.
Sanders received $2,700 from actor and comedian Danny DeVito, $2,800 from actress Susan Sarandon, $2,500 from piano player Norah Jones and $1,000 from Foo Fighters guitarist Christopher Shiflett. Jonathan Fishman, drummer for the jam band Phish, which was formed in Sanders’ home state of Vermont, gave $1,000, while Thomas Middleditch from HBO’s “Silicon Valley” gave $500, records show.
Buttigieg, whose campaign raked in $7 million after emerging as an unexpected hit, has also started to draw celebrity attention. “West Wing” star Bradley Whitford gave $2,000, actor Ryan Reynolds donated $250, NFL network broadcaster Rich Eisen gave $500 and “Game of Thrones” executive producer Carolyn Strauss chipped in $250.
Buttigieg also drew at least one contribution from an unusual source. James Murdoch, the son of conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox News is closely allied with President Donald Trump, cut Buttigieg a $2,800 donation, records show.