Hollywood A-listers gang up on Sen. Mitch McConnell
By Alexandra Jaffe and Patrick Mortiere - 10/29/13 06:00 AM ET
A who’s who of A-list Hollywood stars — including Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Jerry Seinfeld, Ben Stiller and Ben Affleck — is rallying to defeat Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) by writing checks to his Democratic opponent for Senate in 2014.
Names more often seen in lights than Federal Election Commission (FEC) documents peppered Alison Lundergan Grimes’s third-quarter fundraising filings — evidence the Senate minority leader has become Hollywood’s top Republican target this cycle.
According to an analysis of FEC documents by The Hill, at least 66 Hollywood donors — including producers, agents, lawyers and celebrities — contributed more than $250,000 to Lundergan Grimes’s campaign from July through September.
Actors Danny DeVito, Jack Black, Jon Hamm, Nicolas Cage, Seinfeld and DiCaprio all gave the maximum $5,200 to Kentucky’s secretary of State, a rising star in the Bluegrass State considered by Democrats to be the party’s best hope for a Senate pickup next year.
Hollywood couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer (Garner) Affleck are listed as having given $5,200 each. Diaz donated $5,200, and her “There’s Something About Mary” co-star Stiller chipped in $2,500. Leonard Nimoy and director Woody Allen added $500 apiece.
The outpouring of celebrity support comes amid a concerted effort by Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of Hollywood’s most prominent Democratic donors, to put McConnell in the electoral bull’s-eye.
McConnell has been a fundraising boon for Democrats since he said, prior to the 2010 midterm elections, that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
In a recent email drumming up support for Lundergan Grimes, Katzenberg cast McConnell as the chief Republican roadblock to Democrats’ agenda. He wrote that the Kentucky contest is “a pivotal election that can get the Senate working again.”
“There is no more important election being held next year in this country,” Katzenberg added, according to the email, per The Hollywood Reporter.
“As the Senate’s minority leader since 2007, McConnell has used the filibuster 420 times to block legislation and appointments that were supported by a clear majority of senators. ... We are talking about outright obstruction of the democratic process.”
Since announcing her candidacy in the summer, Lundergan Grimes has been actively wooing Hollywood Democrats.
Diane Hamwi, who spearheaded Hillary Clinton’s West Coast fundraising efforts during her presidential run in 2008, is working for Lundergan Grimes in the same capacity.
Lundergan Grimes raised a reported $1 million at a September fundraiser in Los Angeles hosted by Katzenberg, much of it from celebrities.
The FEC filings show Barbra Streisand, one of Obama’s biggest Hollywood backers, has given $1,000 to Lundergan Grimes. James Cameron, the Oscar-winning director of “Titanic” and “Avatar,” gave $5,200, as did “Lost” producer J.J. Abrams and director Steven Spielberg.
Aaron Sorkin, creator of “The West Wing” and “The Newsroom,” gave $1,000.
Actor Ted Danson and comedian Chris Rock both donated $5,000. Mike Myers, perhaps best known for the “Austin Powers” trilogy, gave $5,200.
It’s expected Lundergan Grimes will need anywhere from $20 million to $35 million to compete with McConnell, a prolific fundraiser who has already amassed a $10 million war chest for what’s expected to be the toughest reelection fight of his career.
He is seeking a sixth term and, in addition to Lundergan Grimes, is facing a primary challenge from Tea Party-backed candidate Matt Bevin.
Lundergan Grimes posted a strong fundraising showing her first quarter in the race, with the celebrity help contributing to a record-breaking $2.5 million haul. McConnell raised $2.3 million over the same period.
Lundergan Grimes has hired members of the fundraising team that guided Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to record-breaking fundraising totals in her 2012 race against former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).
They include New York fundraiser Michael Pratt and Colleen
Coffey, Warren’s Massachusetts fundraising chief.
Republicans, however, have tried to characterize Lundergan Grimes’s third-quarter fundraising as a disappointment. They contend that, with all of the celebrity help, the $2.5 million total was low.
While Hollywood’s enthusiastic support will help Lundergan Grimes compete with McConnell, it also risks opening the Democratic candidate to Republican attacks she is leaning too heavily on money from outside Kentucky.
Lundergan Grimes has been working to portray herself as the true Kentucky candidate, in contrast to McConnell, whom she says works only to maintain his own power and prestige in Washington.
But McConnell’s campaign sees the Hollywood donations as an opportunity to undercut that message and flip the script on Lundergan Grimes’s Kentucky-centric campaign.
McConnell’s team had earlier used the news of Katzenberg’s support in its own fundraising pitch. The Republican leader’s campaign said “out of touch liberal extremists ... want to transform Kentucky and America into their own personal Hollywood, limousine liberal fantasy.”
On Monday, McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said the Hollywood backing is an indication Lundergan Grimes is in the race for the wrong reasons.
“You couldn’t find a collection of people anywhere in America who are more hostile to Kentucky values and conservative principles than the ones on Alison Lundergan Grimes’s major donor list. It sure is curious that she spends all her time chatting with professed enemies of coal, Obama enthusiasts, and noted Hollywood liberals but can’t say a word about what she believes back in Kentucky,” Moore told The Hill.
Lundergan Grimes’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.