For a political party which holds itself up as the defender of women’s rights, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin sure took their time answering what to do regarding bombshell accusations of one its past donors.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that Hollywood megamproducer and the former head of Miramax Films, Harvey Weinstein, had for over 30 years sexually harassed a number of young actresses, subordinates, and other young women. Weinstein has also threatened to sue the Times over their story.
Two decades ago, the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein invited Ashley Judd to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for what the young actress expected to be a business breakfast meeting. Instead, he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower, she recalled in an interview.
“How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?” Ms. Judd said she remembers thinking.
In 2014, Mr. Weinstein invited Emily Nestor, who had worked just one day as a temporary employee, to the same hotel and made another offer: If she accepted his sexual advances, he would boost her career, according to accounts she provided to colleagues who sent them to Weinstein Company executives. The following year, once again at the Peninsula, a female assistant said Mr. Weinstein badgered her into giving him a massage while he was naked, leaving her “crying and very distraught,” wrote a colleague, Lauren O’Connor, in a searing memo asserting sexual harassment and other misconduct by their boss.
“There is a toxic environment for women at this company,” Ms. O’Connor said in the letter, addressed to several executives at the company run by Mr. Weinstein.
Weinstein, best known for producing independent films, is the latest in a series of high-profile men who have faced accusations of sexual misconduct. He joins the ranks of comedy legend Bill Cosby, Fox News founder Roger Ailes, and former Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly.
But why would a Hollywood mogul have anything to do with Wisconsin politics? More than you would think.
Weinstein is a prolific Democratic donor, a personal friend of both Bill and Hillary Clinton, and has held numerous fund raisers for Democratic candidates. Weinstein also hired former President Barack Obama’s daughter Malia as an intern at his New York-based Weinstein Company, the successor to Miramax.
He also was a huge supporter of former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-Middleton); particularly his 2010 re-election campaign where he contributed the legal maximum of $4,800.
Weinstein’s fundraising and giving on behalf of Democrats began in the early 1990s, when he gave to Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, former Representative Joe Kennedy, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which supports Democrats running for the U.S. House. Since then, his list of recipients reads like a who’s who of prominent Democrats: Senators Barbara Boxer, Tom Harkin, Chris Dodd, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin. His contributions span the party’s ideological breadth, from strong progressives like Elizabeth Warren and Rosa DeLauro to centrist Democrats like Erskine Bowles and Rahm Emanuel. They include party institutions like Russ Feingold and candidates who lost their races, like insurgent 2006 Connecticut Senate hopeful Ned Lamont.
In addition to aiding Feingold’s campaign, Weinstein gave to the Wisconsin Democratic Party as well. According to the website Political Money Line, the producer of such films a “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” gave $5,000 in donations in 2010 to aid in Feingold’s get out the vote efforts.
For most of Friday, a number of Democratic members of Congress, 2020 hopefuls, and others were issuing statements about how they’d either return Weinstein’s money or make a donation to charity. For Wisconsin Democrats, it took a statement from Wisconsin Republicans and an ambush question on the matter during an event held by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) to get a response.
In a statement, RPW spokesman Alec Zimmerman said, “Wisconsin Democrats should immediately return any donations they’ve received from Harvey Weinstein and condemn his abhorrent behavior.”
As for the party itself, word of their actions came only after the comments made by Baldwin, who urged the party should “do the right thing.”
Weinstein made the donation on Oct. 19, 2010, less than a month before that year’s election, campaign finance records indicate. Melanie Conklin, a spokeswoman for the state Democratic party, confirmed in an email that the party would donate the $5,000.
Asked what Wisconsin Democrats should do, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin said Friday morning at an event in Milwaukee that the party should return it or donate it, calling that “the right thing to do.”
Of course, this raises the question would the party have said anything if Baldwin did not?