Meet the Republicans' biggest Hollywood donors
- Ritzy 90210 is Trump's No. 3 donor ZIP code in the nation, trailing only ZIP codes in Houston, Texas, and Palm Beach, Florida, which is home to his Mar-a-Lago resort, according to an Insider analysis of federal campaign contribution records.
- While Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden boasts many more megawatt stars among his donor ranks, Trump and the Republican Party are quietly amassing tens of millions of dollars from lower-profile, but wealthy bankrollers in and around Hollywood.
- America First Action, the most notable super PAC backing President Donald Trump has taken direct aim at Hollywood. But the group's top donor is luxury real estate billionaire Geoffrey Palmer who lives in Beverly Hills 90210 and gave $6 million to boost Trump's reelection.
- Donors from Hollywood-area ZIP codes also rank among the most generous donors to key Republican senators including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida.
- From Dwight D. Eisenhower to Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan — an actor in his own right — leading Republicans frequently hate on Hollywood while simultaneously courting its power players.
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America First Action, the most notable super PAC backing President Donald Trump, took direct aim at Tinseltown in a fundraising message sent earlier this month.
"Failed Presidential candidates… Socialist governors… Never-Trumpers… Media Elites… Hollywood megadonors… They all HATE our President and they're building the largest ANTI-TRUMP army ever," it wrote to supporters, the latest in a parade of GOP talking points slamming California's most recognizable enclave.
What America First Action didn't advertise: its own top donor is luxury real estate developer Geoffrey Palmer, a billionaire who lives in Beverly Hills 90210, the nation's most Hollywood-adjacent ZIP code. He's given America First Action $6 million to boost Trump's reelection.
Palmer is no anomaly.
While Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden boasts many more megawatt stars among his donor ranks — Steven Spielberg, Christina Aguilera, Annette Bening and George Takei, for starters — Trump and the Republican Party are quietly amassing tens of millions of dollars this election from lower-profile, but nevertheless wealthy bankrollers who live in and around Hollywood, according to Insider analysis of federal campaign contribution records from 2019 and 2020.
Houston, Palm Beach, and Hollywood
Ritzy 90210 is Trump's No. 3 donor ZIP code in the nation, trailing only ZIP codes in Houston, Texas, and Palm Beach, Florida, which is home to his Mar-a-Lago Club resort.
Donors from Hollywood-area ZIP codes also rank among the most generous donors to key Republican senators including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida, Insider's analysis found.
Thousands of other artists and entertainment industry workers across the nation have also contributed this election cycle to Trump and other conservative causes.
This may shock some heartland Republicans, but it shouldn't. Trump's personal obsession with showbiz is legion. He's endlessly fixated on television ratings. Trump even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, albeit one that's been vandalized several times since he won the presidency nearly four years ago.
From Dwight D. Eisenhower to Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan — an actor in his own right — leading Republicans frequently hate on Hollywood while simultaneously courting its power players. Trump's own treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, is a Hollywood bigwig with executive producer credits on numerous films: "Wonder Woman," "Suicide Squad," "Mad Max Fury Road," "The LEGO Batman Movie." He's also married to actress Louise Linton.
And when the COVID-19 crisis trashed plans for the 2020 Republican National Convention, organizers turned to a show business team Trump trusts to pull off a made-for-TV event: former producers of Trump's "The Apprentice" and an ex-NBC entertainment executive.
"The Republican Party has a very long relationship with Hollywood, and the reality is that the Republican Party eagerly grasps at opportunities to bring entertainment into the fold," said Kathryn Cramer Brownell, an associate history professor at Purdue University and author of "Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life."
'He promised to put America first'
On the first night of the Republican National Convention, several speakers reached for the stars — to throttle them.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said Democrats take "money from your pocket and give it to Manhattan elites and Hollywood moguls, so they get a tax break."
The Democratic Party has morphed into the "party of hedge fund managers, Hollywood celebrities, tech, moguls, and university professors, all bloated with contempt for middle America," congressional candidate Sean Parnell of Pennsylvania said.
Added Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida: "Blaming our best and allowing society's worst — that's the story they write in Hollywood."
One Trump-supporting actor who's donated more than $1,100 to the president's reelection campaign — a lot but well under the legal limit — is decidedly unperturbed by it all.
"My parents brought me up with conservative values. They taught me to have respect for everyone I encountered," David McCallum, whose dozens of roles include a 17-year stint as Dr. Donald Mallard on crime drama NCIS, told Insider. "By example, they showed me how to respect my country and the selfless men and women who defended it both abroad and here at home. These values are still an integral part of me and my daily life."
Former "Entertainment Tonight" host Mary Hart, television producer and director Kevin Burns, Christian recording star Paul Baloche, film producer Arlene Sidaris, and musicians Pat Boone and Jimmie Vaughan are among others in the entertainment industry contributing money toward a second Trump term, according to federal records. Actors Randy Quaid, Isaiah Washington, and Marco St. John have cut checks, too.
Hollywood-area residents not known for their entertainment work also pepper Republicans' list of big-dollar donors, from entrepreneur Peter Thiel to Hollywood real estate developer Robert Zarnegin.
Even in the New York Philharmonic, a bastion of perceived liberalism, Trump has found a friend. Bassoonist Roger Nye has made more than two-dozen modest contributions to the president's reelection campaign and says he's proud to have done so.
"Simply put, he promised to put America first, and he has done just that at every turn," Nye told Insider. "And of course the establishment hates him more than anything because of this, and that is why they seek to destroy him every moment of every day. I like him because he is not politically correct, nor is he a career politician. But yet he has done more for more Americans than any other president I have witnessed."
Coincidentally, Nye performs in a hall named for Hollywood executive and Democratic megadonor David Geffen, whose many political contributions include $100,000 on June 16 to the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump super PAC.
Trump continues to profit from Hollywood
In messages to supporters this year, Trump has decried "liberal HOLLYWOOD donors" and "MEGA HOLLYWOOD DONORS," while son Donald Trump Jr. has castigated the "Hollywood Elite."
Trump, however, went Hollywood decades ago. He's personally appeared in movies ranging from "The Little Rascals" to "Zoolander," and TV shows from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" to "Sex and the City" — all before hosting "The Apprentice" on NBC, where Trump likewise guest starred on "Saturday Night Live" several times.
He still values his silver screen image: When the Canadian Broadcasting Company axed his cameo in "Home Alone 2" during a Christmastime airing of the 1992 comedy, Trump squawked.
The president of the United States is also enshrined in the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame by virtue (or villainy) of his memorable melees with WWE honcho Vince McMahon.
Trump's first Small Business Administration administrator was Vince McMahon's wife Linda McMahon, a top donor who now leads the pro-Trump America First Action super PAC, which like the Trump campaign, did not reply to requests for comment.
Perhaps Trump's most surreal star turn came in 2000, when Trump, as part of a parody video, buried his face in the fake breasts of then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani — now Trump's personal lawyer — who was dressed in drag.
While Trump routinely boasts of donating his $400,000 presidential salary, his Screen Actors Guild pension provides him a substantial side income, according to personal financial disclosures the president files annually with the federal government.
In 2016, as a presidential candidate, Trump's Screen Actors Guild pension scored him $169,000. As president, Trump's pension earned him more than $84,000 in 2017, about $91,000 in 2018 and about $78,000 in 2019, his personal financial disclosures indicate.
Trump has also reported receiving a four-figure pension from the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists Retirement Fund as well as small royalty payments from various movies and television shows in which he's credited.
Hollywood's direct line to Trump
Every year since 2000, Hollywood's muscle in Washington, D.C., the Motion Picture Association of America, has spent at least $1 million — and as much as $4 million — lobbying the federal government, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Its bipartisan lobbying team used to be led by former Sen. Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who coordinated Biden's vice presidential search. It's also filled with former aides to GOP committees and Republican members of Congress, including from the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, who serves on the powerful House Committee on Appropriations.
But the MPAA's biggest hired gun is Brian Ballard, its direct line to Trumpworld.
A long-time lobbyist in Florida, Ballard joined Trump's campaign in 2016 as a top fundraiser, presidential elector and member of Trump's transition and inauguration teams. When Trump became president, Ballard opened a Washington, D.C., office, quickly attracting dozens of clients eager to establish a reliable connection to the ever-unpredictable president's administration.
Ballard's profile within the GOP continued to expand. He became a member of the national party's fundraising committee and would have been co-chairman of the 2020 Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Florida. (In the end, Republicans decided to conduct a mainly virtual convention with a few, key elements in Charlotte, North Carolina, its original host city.)
Graham, the senator from South Carolina, has been one of the most vocal Hollywood scolds ahead of the Republican National Convention despite accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from people who live in and around the entertainment capital. This summer alone, Graham has sent supporters more than 40 fundraising emails that deride Hollywood — and often, his opponent, Democrat Jaime Harrison — by name.
Graham's campaign did not return requests for comment, but Harrison campaign spokesman Guy King said that "it's hypocritical of Lindsey Graham to say Jaime Harrison is taking Hollywood money when Lindsey has taken money from Hollywood donors."
At least Graham, who didn't score a prime-time speaking slot at the Republican National Convention, didn't have to follow a soaring opening act Monday that touted Trump's accomplishments.
The man providing the video's voice-over? Jon Voight, a four-time Oscar nominee and one-time winner of the motion picture industry's most coveted award, and the father of Angelina Jolie.
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