How the Media Keeps Missing the Story on Campaign Finance

Joe Biden held a fundraiser in Los Angeles Wednesday night that was sponsored by people like DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, executive and producer Peter Chernin, actor Rob Reiner, and Terry Press, the president of CBS Films. CNBC political finance reporter Brian Schwartz wrote a story about it and posted this tweet.

New York Magazine’s Intelligencer posted that tweet with this introduction: “Biden’s willingness to take this kind of money, as opposed to candidates on his left, is paying off so far.”

What do they mean by “this kind of money?” Is it because some of the luminaries in attendance were from Hollywood? That’s the kind of thing we can expect to hear from right wingers, who constantly harp about the so-called “Hollywood elite.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that any of the candidates on Biden’s left are refusing to take money from people who work in the film or entertainment industry.

Instead of the people who donated, perhaps it was a reference to the amount that was raised. Schwartz’s tweet sure left the impression that Biden was hauling in the cash from major donors. After all, we’re talking about rich people in Hollywood from whom the candidate “raked in” over $700,000.

But here is what actually happened, which Schwartz gets to in the fourth paragraph of his piece.

More than 300 people showed up at the Hollywood fundraiser, but not all of them cut checks for the maximum individual amount of $2,800. People familiar with the planning told CNBC that it was “opened up to young professionals,” including some who gave $500 to get in the door.

Let’s do the math. If each of those 300 people wrote checks for the maximum individual amount of $2,800, Biden would have raised $840,000. So obviously some of them didn’t max out. The real story is that 300 people attended a fundraiser in Hollywood for Joe Biden.

It is true that a lot of us don’t have the financial means to write out a check for $500—much less $2,800. But those amounts are not what anyone is referring to when we talk about the kind of influence big money has in politics. As a matter of fact, they are a drop in the bucket.

But anyone who saw Schwartz’s tweet or the ridiculous intro at the Intelligencer was left with the impression that Biden is already putting himself in the pockets of big money donors, while candidates to his left are not taking “that kind of money.”

This type of misleading reporting happens a lot. And obviously, it isn’t limited to irresponsible former journalists like David Sirota. There are some serious issues with the way that big money influences our politics. But taking individual donations from a couple hundred people who work in Hollywood certainly isn’t one of them.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.