It was a simple internet search that led documentarian Alexandra Pelosi (San Francisco 2.0) to a list of the biggest campaign donors funding presidential candidates. In her latest HBO doc, Meet the Donors: Does Money Talk?, we watch as Pelosi meets with an assortment of billionaire donors, asking them why they give millions to candidates, how this funding affects campaigns, and all the access these hefty donations can get you. We spoke with Pelosi about the donors she interviewed, the impact they’ve had on past elections, and how this system plays into the current election.
In your interviews donor after donor would give you a similar reason as to why they give so much money to campaigns, that it’s out of the goodness of their heart.
What? You don’t believe them? That’s what’s wrong with you? You’re so cynical. They write $10 million checks because they just love America.
Right. Did you feel frustrated that they weren’t being fully honest with you?
I think that’s the way it looks in their world. I think a couple things — first of all, I don’t think you realize how rich these people are. I feel like the disconnect that I keep having to try to explain to people that I know is you don’t understand what a billionaire is like. They live in a bubble surrounded by people that tell them what they want to hear and they get anything they want. So I don’t think they look at it as, I’m paying 10 million dollars and I’m getting “x”. I think they think of it more as, this is the price tag for the company they keep. I know that nobody sat down and just spread themselves out for me and said, “Okay, here’s why I do it, so I can get this law written.” But I feel like it’s unspoken. That you get it from what they don’t say. I know it’s not satisfying for you because they don’t fully open up their diary and dish because the quid pro quo is not that concrete.
Did you expect a clear answer from the outset and then realize as you interviewed more people that you weren’t going to get that linear explanation from them?
The ratio of how many interviews I filmed to how many show up in the film is staggering. At some point I realized, oh, it’s more sophisticated then I though it was. Well, Tom Steyer is pretty clear. You talk to some people who are clear, like, “I’m doing this because I want clear energy.” “I’m doing this because I want to save the world from global warming.” That’s an admission or sorts. And you may think, it’s a good cause so it’s okay. Or is it? If he wants to save the world, is that okay? But at least he says it, they admit what they wanted — I have this law and I want to get it passed. And it didn’t work because the Koch brothers outspent him. But that’s pretty revealing. But they all say, “I do it because I love America and so I can have access, if I need the access.” Like paying insurance.
It’s like the membership fee to go to Camp David.
Exactly. That’s very articulate, thank you. I wish I was as articulate as you are. It’s just like a membership fee to a club to get you invited to the exclusive places in America where no one else can go.