In Meet the Donors: Does Money Talk? intrepid filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi (HBO’s Emmy-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.
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.
Pelosi checks in with mega-donors from across the political spectrum, including: Democrat Bernard Schwartz, 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.
She talks with other individuals 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.
This film is the tenth HBO documentary by Alexandra Pelosi, who made the 2002 Emmy 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.