Backstage Backer

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

Backstage Backer

He’s the contributor from central casting.

by Kathleen Sharp

#18 Lew R. and Edith Wasserman, Beverly Hills, Calif. Party: Both. $301,088 total contributions

View The Wassermans’ itemized contributions.

The man who helped make a star of Ronald Reagan has for decades also been the Democrats’ dream come true. Even at age 84, Lew Wasserman, the retired chairman of MCA, and his wife continue to channel millions to the Democratic Party.

And their parties! Last year, Lew and Edith threw a soiree for President Clinton in their lush backyard with the likes of Barbra Streisand (#369) and even Republican Kevin Costner attending. Guests paid a $10,000 entrance fee; over $1 million was raised.

It wasn’t always so. Quiet during Joe McCarthy’s Hollywood persecutions, Wasserman became politically active only after trust-busting Attorney General Robert Kennedy told him he couldn’t continue to run both Universal Studios and his MCA talent agency, which had purchased the movie factory. (Wasserman chose the studio.) Although he consistently supported Democrats (rejecting a Cabinet post along the way), Wasserman backed Reagan in 1980. Why? Maybe because Carter’s Justice Department had rejected a new MCA cable network for — once again — antitrust violations.

Wasserman’s shift had roots. In 1952, Reagan, who headed the Screen Actors Guild, had allowed MCA, alone among talent agencies, to produce television shows. MCA repaid the middling actor by having him host a popular series, leading to the revived celebrity that he eventually rode to the White House.

Fast-forward 30 years. When the Reagan administration moved to repeal the FCC rules that prevented networks from producing their own shows — which had garnered Universal millions — only Wasserman’s personal appeal to the president nipped the deregulation bid in the bud. These days, Wasserman may have seen some of his political power shift toward the likes of David Geffen (#42). But, as his 1996 garden party revealed, Wasserman’s no Norma Desmond.

Next Profile | MoJo 400 Central


The 400 List:

The full Mother Jones 400 list.

Meet the people with political pull.



Search the top 400 political donors by name, industry, state, or contribution amount.

Itemized Contributions
The details of every donation, searchable by donor, recipient, date, amount, and more.



Money & Politics
Is campaign finance reform the way to a better government?


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend