By Judy Kurtz - 10-31-14 06:00 AM EDT
Celebrities are putting on a money-raising show, digging into their wallets in a last ditch effort to help Democrats and Republicans before Election Day.
David Letterman, Ben Affleck, former NFL quarterback John Elway, and “Scandal’s” Shonda Rhimes were among those pitching in to help their candidates of choice with cash before next week’s midterm elections.
The donations made in this past fundraising cycle are largely being funneled to high-stakes match-ups that could either keep the Senate in Democratic hands or tilt it to GOP control.
But in some cases, A-listers might be opening their checkbooks for old pals.
“Late Show” host Letterman was one of several high-profile donors to Sen. Al Franken’s reelection campaign. The Minnesota Democrat has worked to fend off Republican businessman Mike McFadden and is expected to survive.
Franken and Letterman have a long history together — the “Saturday Night Live” alum first appeared on the late-night funnyman’s CBS show back in 1987. Franken has the distinction of being the sole recipient of Letterman’s political dollars over the years. Letterman, who’s retiring in 2015, cut a check for $5,100 this year to Franken, and donated to him twice in 2008, and once in 2011.
The TV comedian isn’t the only celeb Franken has in his star-packed (and humor-filled) fundraising arsenal. With donations from comedy mega-producer Judd Apatow, “Cheers” actor Ted Danson, fellow former “SNL” comic Will Forte, and singer Nancy Sinatra, Franken comes in near the top of the list of candidates for the most money contributed to his campaign by Hollywood.
Entertainers are also pouring money into competitive Senate match-ups. The showdown between Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who’s locked in a nailbiter to keep her seat against former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), has plenty of stars accessing their bank accounts. Shaheen counts longtime Democratic supporter Barbra Streisand, “Glee” and “American Horror Story” co-creator Ryan Murphy, Sinatra, and Garrison Keillor from "A Prairie Home Companion" among her latest donors.
Brown has some major muscle on his side too: World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Vince McMahon, whose wife Linda unsuccessfully ran for Senate in Connecticut twice, threw $5,200 into the Republican’s ring. Meanwhile, real estate mogul Donald Trump, who has flirted over the years with a possible political run himself, fired off $2,500.
Many celebrities have apparently maxed out in donations to Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, whose race against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has received some of the heaviest attention in the country.
In past fundraising periods, Grimes’s donor list has included some of Tinseltown’s biggest names: Leonardo DiCaprio, “Avatar” director James Cameron, Nicolas Cage, Steven Spielberg and Jerry Seinfeld, among them.
But with $5,200 each being the maximum amount an individual can give to a single candidate in a two-year election cycle, Grimes’s star donors appear to have tapped out in the last month. Soon-to-be “Batman” star Ben Affleck and wife Jennifer Garner did donate $5,000 each to the Kentucky State Democratic Central Executive Committee, though.
Shonda Rhimes, the mind behind the TV hits “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away With Murder,” dug deep into her pockets for the Democratic National Committee, donating a whopping $32,400 at the end of July. Legendary Motown hitmaker Berry Gordy made a five-figure contribution in the same amount to the DNC, while comedians Steve Harvey and Patton Oswalt also donated.
Additional notable Democratic donors include Ivanka Trump, Warren Buffett, Blythe Danner, "Hot in Cleveland" actress Wendie Malick, composer Hans Zimmer and author Judy Blume.
High-profile donors also showed Republicans some monetary love. Denver Broncos general manager John Elway gave $7,500 total — donating $5,000 to Rep. Cory Gardner’s (R-Colo.) Senate bid against incumbent Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), and $2,500 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also gave big, helping Alaska Senate candidate Dan Sullivan’s campaign with a $5,200 check. The Republican is in a competitive race against Sen. Mark Begich (D). Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, meanwhile, made a $250 donation to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
— Leeann Doerflein, Crystal Hill, Niki Papadogiannakis, and Eliza Schmitt contributed.