Harvey Weinstein, one of Hollywood’s most important film producers and executives, has been brought low. In the wake of a New York Time” report that he sexually harassed actresses and former employees, he’s been fired from his own company.
For years he was feted by the Hollywood elite, but now they’re keeping their distance (though as I write this, late night comedians are still taking it fairly easy on Harvey—they may want to make sure he’s not coming back first).
Neither Weinstein, nor the politicians who take his money, are doing it to further the cause of sexual harassment, after all. He’s been donating over the years because, as imperfect as he may personally be, he believes in the ideas supported by the Democratic Party.
For that matter, his legal advisors, Lisa Bloom and Lanny Davis, have decided not to represent him. You’ve got to be really radioactive for your lawyers to quit.
In what might hurt the most, Democratic politicians are saying they don’t want his money. Over the years Weinstein has given hundreds of thousands to the Democratic Party, and they called him a hero. But since the story broke, politicians such as Senators Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker have refused his contributions, and are forwarding his money to women’s charities.
Which raises a question, in the midst of this scandal, worth looking into. Should politicians turn down money if they don’t like the source?
I think the answer is no.
It may seem like a tough call in a case like Harvey Weinstein. But neither Weinstein, nor the politicians who take his money, are doing it to further the cause of sexual harassment, after all. He’s been donating over the years because, as imperfect as he may personally be, he believes in the ideas supported by the Democratic Party.
George Bernard Shaw dealt with this question in his classic play “Major Barbara.”
Barbara is an upper class young woman who serves in the Salvation Army. Her father is Andrew Undershaft, a munitions maker who’s made millions, thanks to war.
Undershaft visits Barbara’s Salvation Army shelter, which needs money to stay open. He decides to make a huge donation — matching the amount made from a whisky distiller. Mrs. Baines, Barbara’s superior, is more than happy to take it.
Barbara--Mrs. Baines: are you really going to take this money? [...]
Mrs. Baines—Dear Barbara: [the whisky distiller] has a soul to be saved like any of us. If heaven has found the way to make a good use of his money, are we to set ourselves up against the answer to our prayers?
Barbara—I know he has a soul to be saved. Let him come down here; and I’ll do my best to help him to his salvation. But he wants to send his cheque down to buy us, and go on being as wicked as ever.
Personally, I’ve always thought Mrs. Baines has the better argument. Whether or not the donor is a good person – or even if he is cynically giving the money to help his own reputation -- if the cash ends up doing good, that should be enough.
The money’s origin is not pertinent. As long as the politicians make it clear to donors they’ll spend it as they see fit, it’s fine. Indeed, it’s probably a good thing if they disappoint their donors every now and then.
So I say to Schumer, Warren, Booker and others, take Weinstein’s money and spend it however you like.
Just don’t tell him you’ll save his soul. Maybe his Hollywood friends can try to help him with that. If they haven’t deserted him completely.