On Thursday, a bombshell story in the New York Times reported on decades’ worth of sexual harassment allegations against the powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time,” actress Ashley Judd told the paper, “and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.”
On Thursday evening, New York’s Rebecca Traister published a chilling account of her own past experience with Weinstein, in which she claims Weinstein called her a “cunt” back in 2000, allegedly dragged her then-boyfriend in a headlock out of a party onto Sixth Avenue, managing mostly avoid negative press coverage “despite the dozens of camera flashes that went off on that sidewalk that night.” She writes that reporters, including the late David Carr, tried in vain “for years” to write a story that the enormous legal, professional, and political apparatus around Weinstein made nearly impossible.
(In his rather odd and lengthy statement to the New York Times, Weinstein did not deny the facts of the piece, but his lawyer Lisa Bloom also said that that “he denies many of the accusations as patently false.” After it was published he specifically denied Ashley Judd’s accusation and his lawyer, Charles Harder, announced plans to sue the paper. Harder was Hulk Hogan’s lawyer in a suit that was part of a successful campaign to bankrupt Gawker by billionaire Peter Thiel, and he is currently involved in litigation against this website.)
Since the early ’90s, around the same time as the earliest allegations featured in the NYT story, Weinstein has been a prominent donor to progressive causes, most notably the Democratic party. Weinstein and his money tend to pop up in articles mapping out the Democratic party’s ties to corporate interests and big donors. Despite its uneven lurch toward progressivism, the Democratic party’s ties to big donors remain considerable—if not necessarily comparable, organizationally, to the complex networks of a few radical billionaires that direct the conservative movement—and Weinstein has represented this special political class for some time as a reliable presence and sometime-host at the party’s most glittering fundraisers.
In a 1996 article in the New York Daily News, for example, Weinstein, then with Miramax Films, was noted as an example of a big “soft money” donor who was honored with an invitation to a White House state dinner. A longtime Clinton donor, he schmoozed with the Clintons at Martha’s Vineyard in 1997 and contributed, along with other Hollywood figures like Barbra Streisand and Steven Spielberg, to President Bill Clinton’s legal defense fund during Kenneth Starr’s investigation; over the years, he has supported Hillary Clinton’s successful Senate bid and both of her presidential campaigns, as well as Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign and John Kerry’s in 2004. Gore’s campaign drew calls of hypocrisy for criticizing the increasing violence portrayed in films (my, how the world has changed) while enjoying support from Weinstein, whose Miramax studio distributed many of them.
“The centerpiece of the Gore-Lieberman remarks on the entertainment industry is that Hollywood may need to be regulated,” Ari Fleischer, then-spokesman for George W. Bush’s campaign, told the Washington Post a few months prior to the 2000 election. “Then one of the co-hosts of tomorrow’s event is the same person who perfected the art of selling to children things that shouldn’t be seen by children.”
According to campaign finance records, Weinstein began donating to the Democratic party in the early 1990s. He has personally donated to Democratic Senators including Kirsten Gillibrand, Al Franken, Cory Booker, Chuck Schumer, Richard Blumenthal, Elizabeth Warren, Patrick Leahy, Martin Heinrich, and Sheldon Whitehouse, though he also donated to the failed 2010 Nevada Senate campaign of Republican investment banker John Gregory Chachas. (Following the Times story, several Democrats hurriedly announced plans to give away Weinstein’s money.) According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he’s shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and has also donated to state Democratic parties; in total, his political donations amount to over $1.4 million.
While he was writing these checks, according to the New York Times report, he was also allegedly doing this:
In interviews, eight women described varying behavior by Mr. Weinstein: appearing nearly or fully naked in front of them, requiring them to be present while he bathed or repeatedly asking for a massage or initiating one himself. The women, typically in their early or middle 20s and hoping to get a toehold in the film industry, said he could switch course quickly — meetings and clipboards one moment, intimate comments the next. One woman advised a peer to wear a parka when summoned for duty as a layer of protection against unwelcome advances.
Xochitl Hinojosa, Communications Director of the Democratic National Committee responded to Jezebel’s questions about the allegations against Weinstein with the following statement:
The allegations in the New York Times report are deeply troubling. The Democratic party condemns all forms of sexual harassment and assault. We hope that Republicans will do the same as we mark one year since the release of a tape showing President Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women followed by more than a dozen women who came forward to detail similar experiences of assault and harassment.
The DNC will donate over $30,000 in contributions from Weinstein to EMILY’s List, Emerge America and Higher Heights because what we need is more women in power, not men like Trump who continue to show us that they lack respect for more than half of America.
Although the NYT report brought Weinstein’s treatment of women into the realm of open discussion, stories of his apparently odious behavior toward human beings in general—which he blamed, in a 2004 New York profile, on his blood-glucose levels—have long been available to the public, from allegedly fighting with an employee over a bowl of M&Ms and eating them off the floor, to allegedly harassing producer Syndey Pollack on his deathbed. Occasionally, reports showed this kind of behavior extending into the political sphere, where Weinstein was increasingly influential.
For example, a blistering profile of Weinstein for New York in 2001 by David Carr included a bizarre anecdote about Weinstein’s involvement in the 2001 New York City mayoral campaign. In a matter of days, Weinstein had switched from supporting Democratic frontrunner Mark Green to eventually victorious Republican candidate Michael Bloomberg, after Green reportedly dismissed Weinstein’s attempt to play peacemaker between Green and his primary opponent Fernando Ferrer. From New York:
“All I want to fucking do is fucking unite this fucking city, and you won’t let me!” Weinstein screamed, according to a Green source. With that, Weinstein called the Republican candidate and offered his support. “Bloomberg was willing to reach out to working-class communities Harvey relates to,” says a Miramax spokesperson.
A Green lieutenant saw it another way: “It’s what can happen when he doesn’t get his way,” the source says.
Several years later, in 2008, CNN reported that Weinstein, then supporting Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign against Barack Obama, threatened to cut off funding to congressional Democrats if then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t heed Clinton’s call to finance revotes in Florida and Michigan (Weinstein denied doing this). From CNN:
Another person familiar with the phone call said what might have upset Pelosi is that Weinstein also suggested that if Democratic leaders “did not fix” the Florida and Michigan problem, powerful Democrats may abandon the eventual party nominee in favor of Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, in November.
Pelosi refused, CNN reported, and Weinstein eventually got on the Obama train. During Obama’s 2012 campaign, Weinstein was noted as a top “bundler” from the entertainment industry as Hollywood money swept in to fill the donation gap left by a newly-regulated Wall Street. Shortly before that year’s election, Republicans were infuriated by news that the film Seal Team Six: the Raid on Osama bin Laden, premiering just days before the election, was tweaked by Weinstein himself to expand Obama’s role. Malia Obama interned for Weinstein this past spring, two years after Weinstein was publicly accused of groping Italian model Ambra Battilana.
(A quick aside here: the Times reported that this alleged incident ended in a settlement after Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, Jr. declined to press charges. Vance, a Democrat, allegedly received a $10,000 donation from Weinstein’s lawyer David Bois shortly afterwards. As you may recall, Vance was recently in the news after revelations that he dropped charges against Ivanka Trump and Don Jr. in 2012 after a visit from Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz, a Vance donor. Vance denied wrongdoing in the latter case, and in the former, denied that David Bois was Weinstein’s lawyer in the 2015 investigation. Bois also denied ever speaking to Vance about Weinstein. Vance is currently running unopposed for reelection.)
Up until the release of the Times report, Weinstein seems to have remained in the good graces of prominent Democrats. In July of this year, Page Six reported that Weinstein and his wife, Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman, had a private meeting with Sen. Kamala Harris, who, though a recent backer of Bernie Sanders’ single-payer health care proposal, has attracted scrutiny from Sanders’ wing of the party for her record as California’s attorney general and for her ties to the donor class.
BuzzFeed reported on Thursday that Weinstein was helped in his effort to get out ahead of the Times story in a pro bono capacity by Anita Dunn, an Obama campaign staffer and former White House communications director. Dunn is currently managing director of D.C. PR firm SKDKnickerbocker, best known for its PR work on behalf of Democratic clients (and also Herbalife). According to BuzzFeed sources, former Bill Clinton special counsel Lanny Davis was also “central” to this PR push. Since his work for Clinton, Davis has written columns for The Hill, lobbied on behalf of human rights violators and sold passports to various Caribbean islands.
It’s disingenuous at best for Republicans to use Harvey Weinstein as a political talking point considering who lives in the White House right now, as the DNC’s Hinojosa points out, but that hasn’t stopped them; it’s likely that Weinstein will remain wedged into the conservative vernacular for some time, somewhere between #Benghazi and HER EMAILS. What gives this story particular political traction for the GOP, beyond the hypocrisy of a progressive donor and distributor of films like The Hunting Ground being called as a serial sexual harasser, is that it puts a rather hideous face on the entrenched donor system that continues to polarize the two wings of the Democratic party.
One could certainly argue that Weinstein’s money and influence over the Democratic party is nothing compared to that of the Kochs or the Mercers over the Republicans, and was simply the means to an end in a hopelessly corrupt political process. It will also no doubt be argued that none of the politicians or Democratic operatives who took Weinstein’s money had ever heard whispers of these allegations; but whether or not you believe professional political operatives fearful of being outspent by the Kochs and the Mercers were completely out of the loop on this “open secret” is up to you.