Thursday’s New York Times report detailing decades of inappropriate sexual conduct toward women by Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein puts Democrats in a very uncomfortable position.
Weinstein has, for years and years, been a major – and high profile – Democratic donor and fundraiser. He has doled out hundreds of thousands – and helped raise millions – for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Weinstein had made 185 individual donations to a variety of Democratic candidate and liberal-aligned organizations dating back to the early 1990s.
He’s also hosted a series of fundraisers at his various homes around the country over the years. In 2013, he hosted then-President Barack Obama for a fundraiser at his New York City apartment. In 2012, Obama did a fundraiser for his re-election bid at Weinstein’s home in Connecticut. During the 2016 campaign, Weinstein held a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign at his New York City apartment and another with fashion mogul Anna Wintour.
Those ties are very problematic now given the seriousness of the allegations and Weinstein’s statement in which he announces he is stepping away from the movie studio to “conquer my demons.”
The initial response from Democratic politicians is to distance themselves from Weinstein by returning donations from him. In the wake of Thursday’s story, Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts all signaled they will be sending back Weinstein’s money or directing it to a charitable cause.
You can expect lots and lots more Democratic politicians and organizations – Weinstein gave heavily to the Democratic National Committee, among others – to follow the lead of that quartet of senators.
And it’s hard to see how Obama and the Clintons – Weinstein is a long time pal of Bill and Hillary – can avoid putting out statements condemning him for his behavior. That’s especially true since Weinstein isn’t really denying the Times story; he’s threatening a lawsuit simply saying the news organization didn’t give him enough time to respond.
But there’s more to this story than simply issuing statements condemning Weinstein or returning his now-tainted money. These paragraphs from the Times story gets to that broader point:
“In interviews, some of the former employees who said they had troubling experiences with Mr. Weinstein asked a common question: How could allegations repeating the same pattern — young women, a powerful male producer, even some of the same hotels — have accumulated for almost three decades?
“‘It wasn’t a secret to the inner circle,’ said Kathy DeClesis, Bob Weinstein’s assistant in the early 1990s. She supervised a young woman who left the company abruptly after an encounter with Harvey Weinstein and who later received a settlement, according to several former employees.”
Then there’s this from New York magazine’s Rebecca Traister: “I have been having conversations about Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment for more than 17 years.”
It seems like Weinstein’s boorish behavior – to put it mildly – was an open secret in the circles he ran in. The prevailing sentiment when the New York Times published its piece was not “WOW!” but rather “Finally!”
That’s important. If everyone around Weinstein knew about his inappropriate conduct around women, why were so many Democratic politicians willing to pal around with him and/or accept his money?
The answer to that question will likely be some version of this: “I had no idea that he was capable of this sort of thing.”
Which may well be true. But, it leads to this obvious question: Why not? As in: If everyone around Weinstein knew he acted like this around women – particularly those with whom his status in Hollywood he believed gave him a measure of control – why didn’t someone ever mention something to Obama, Clinton, Warren or any of the other politicians and organizations that Weinstein lavished money on?
That’s a question that should be asked of every prominent Democrat with ties – financial or otherwise – to Weinstein. And it’s one that doesn’t have a good answer.