Press release from HBO, July 12, 2016:
With the election of 2016 shaping up to be the most expensive in U.S. history, candidates from both major parties are relying on the generosity of big donors to get their message out. But who are these high rollers, and why are they giving so much of their money away?
In MEET THE DONORS: DOES MONEY TALK?, intrepid filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi (HBO’s Emmy(R)-winning “Journeys with George”) takes viewers behind the scenes at top-dollar fundraisers and chats with dozens of ultra-rich mega-donors from both political parties to find out why they are pouring millions into the election. The documentary debuts MONDAY, AUG. 1 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT), just after the Republican and Democratic conventions, exclusively on HBO.
Other HBO playdates: Aug. 3 (11:30 a.m., 12:40 a.m.), 5 (4:45 p.m.), 7 (11:45 a.m.) and 9 (12:30 p.m.)
HBO2 playdates: Aug. 10 (3:15 a.m.), 11 (9:00 a.m., 8:00 p.m.), 20 (2:45 p.m.) and 24 (11:00 p.m.)
The documentary will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand.
Armed with her hand-held camera and a sense of humor, Alexandra Pelosi gains exclusive access to the donor class, and offers a peek into the lifestyles of the rich and political. Starting in New York City, arguably home to the most mega-donors and canapé-infused fundraisers, she drops into corner offices and cocktail soirees. Pelosi asks these billionaires and multi-millionaires about the extent of their contributions and giving philosophies. Democrat Bernard Schwartz says he considers his donations “a privilege… I’m investing in something I believe in,” adding, “I don’t ask for a politician to do what I say. I want them to hear me when I have a problem.”
Schwartz’s sentiments are echoed by other mega-donors from across the political spectrum, including: Haim Saban, founder of Saban Entertainment; former hedge-fund manager Julian Robertson; grocery-store magnate John Catsimatidis; Stanley Hubbard, chairman and CEO of Hubbard Broadcasting; Foster Friess, a mutual-fund investor with a Christian agenda; Sonoma vintner John Jordan; investment banker Brad Freeman; J.B. Pritzker, co-founder of the Pritzer Group and scion to one of America’s richest families; Morris Pearl, chairman of The Patriotic Millionaires; oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens; and hedge-fund manager and philanthropist Tom Steyer.
Pelosi checks in with others about lobbying, corporations, unions and advocacy groups – collectively, the special-interest groups – that contribute millions to campaigns. Interviewees include: businessman Toby Neugebauer; former congressman and lobbyist Tom Downey; and former Mississippi governor-turned-lobbyist Haley Barbour. According to mega-donor Ian Simmons, special-interest groups spend around $3 billion a year on direct lobbying, with another $3 to $6 billion spent “trying to influence federal legislation.”
Finally, Pelosi visits donors with a far different agenda, who are raising money to get money out of politics. These include: Jonathan Soros, an advocate for Campaign Finance Reform, who feels America needs “a path for someone to run without relying on rich people”; Ben Cohen, a founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream; Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg; and former Republican congressman Tom Davis.
The film closes in Rhode Island on Block Island, with Vin Ryan, a Democratic mega-donor, who stopped writing checks “to anyone who doesn’t support campaign-finance reform.” He believes the government is in danger of becoming “organized and run by a few – and those few are the ones who write the biggest checks.”
MEET THE DONORS: DOES MONEY TALK? is the tenth HBO documentary by Alexandra Pelosi, who made the 2002 Emmy(R) winner “Journeys with George,” as well as “Diary of a Political Tourist” (2004), “Friends of God: A Road Trip with Alexandra Pelosi” (2007), “The Trials of Ted Haggard” (2009), “Right America: Feeling Wronged – Some Voices from the Campaign Trail” (2009), “Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County” (2010), “Citizen U.S.A.: A 50 State Road Trip” (2011), “Fall to Grace” (2013) and “San Francisco 2.0” (2014). Pelosi spent ten years as a producer for NBC and has authored two books, “Sneaking into the Flying Circus” and “Citizen USA: A 50 State Road Trip” (the companion to her HBO documentary).
MEET THE DONORS: DOES MONEY TALK? is directed and produced by Alexandra Pelosi; editor, Geof Bartz. For HBO: senior producer, Lisa Heller; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.