Hollywood Fundraising Spikes for National Races Ahead of Midterms

Voters at Masonic Lodge - Getty - H 2018
Mario Tama/Getty

The entertainment industry raised $43 million for national candidates and races this year, which represents an almost 50 percent jump over the 2014 midterm election cycle.

As Hollywood heads to the polls on Tuesday, the industry is nervously holding its breath in the hopes that the country avoids a repeat of the 2016 presidential election that propelled Donald Trump into the White House and promptly sent much of the town racing to their therapists. 

But one thing is for sure: If things don’t go Hollywood’s way, it won’t be for a lack of effort as their fundraising efforts blew past previous midterm elections. The amount of money raised for national candidates and races by the entertainment industry is currently at $43 million, which represents an almost 50 percent jump over the 2014 midterm election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign fundraising for national races. That figure, representing donations at the federal level, is expected to climb even further as last-minute donations are tabulated. 

Surprising no one is the breakdown of how those monies were distributed: 81 percent went to Democratic candidates, while 19 percent went to Republicans (in 2014, the breakdown was 76 percent to Democrats to 24 percent to Republicans).

But fundraising was only part of the story in this election cycle, as the entertainment industry saw a new level of grassroots involvement in a range of down ticket races that they would likely have ignored in the pre-Trump era. Much of the focus will be on the gubernatorial races in Florida and Georgia and the Texas U.S. Senate race that has pitted Democrat Beto O’Rourke against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. 

“I think people are nervous and anxious to get it over with,” says ICM’s Hannah Linkenhoker, who oversees the agency’s politics department. “People want some grounding in all the madness that has been going on. And my prediction is that the Democrats are going to win in a bunch of places.”

Adding to the industry’s uptick in interest is the fact that deeply blue California has a number of tightly contested House races in districts that are currently controlled by Republicans. If those districts were to flip and go Democrat, it would go a long way towards the Democrat's primary goal of regaining control of the House. 

For industry activists, the last few weeks have been less about fundraising and almost entirely about throwing their weight behind various “Get Out the Vote” campaigns. Dozens of celebrities including Jessica Alba, Judd Apatow, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Natalie Portman, Chelsea Handler and Charlize Theron participated in the Telethon for America on Monday night designed to urge young people to go to the polls. It is unclear how effective that event was.  

There were some other high points in celebrity activism leading up to Tuesday’s vote, as well. When Taylor Swift endorsed Tennessee Democrats Phil Bredesen and Jim Cooper via her Instagram page, it led to a huge increase in voter registration. According to a spokesperson, the nonprofit Vote.org registered 434,000 people in the week following Swift’s Instagram post. 

“This year, celebrity engagement has driven some significant peaks in registration,” said a spokesperson at Vote.org.

Other celebrity-driven events that led to spikes in voter registration included the video that former President Barack Obama posted Oct. 17 on Twitter, which led to 40,000 new visits to Voter.org’s website; and posts by Mark Hamill and Rihanna, both of which received thousands of retweets and tens of thousands of likes.