Casey Affleck likely isn’t the only Hollywood producer who doesn’t know where his money is going.
The Oscar-winning actor claimed he was “appalled” when he learned that his production company, The Affleck/Middleton Project, donated $5,000 to President Donald Trump’s transition efforts. His business partner, producer John Powers Middleton, is a longtime supporter of Republican and pro-Trump groups.
Before the Center for Public Integrity revealed the connection after examining federal donation filings, could Affleck really have been in the dark regarding what his partner was doing with the company’s money? It’s very possible — and a lesson for others in Hollywood to closely monitor their own production company pocketbooks.
“It’s a little shocking how easily you can spend money that’s not yours,” said Meg Madison, a veteran Hollywood bookkeeping consultant.”People funnel all expenses. They try to funnel the tuition of their kids if they can get away with it.”
Companies like Affleck’s that juggle multiple productions still have to put all their expenses through their bookkeepers. But if a fund is hidden among other production costs, then the next accountant who looks at the ledgers may never notice anything suspicious.
Cate Cameron/A&E Networks
“Someone in accounting knows about that transaction, and it’s not necessarily that person’s job to tell someone else about it if that person told her where to put it,” Madison said.
Since Affleck and Middleton are equal partners, it’s likely each has access to his own draw account within the company. Founded in 2014, The Affleck/Middleton Project had a hand in the production of “Manchester by the Sea,” and according to IMDB has two other films in the works, including “Far Bright Star,” an ambitious Western to be directed by Affleck. Even though it’s a relatively small operation, that’s still enough financial activity to hide $5,000.
The better question might be how Affleck could be surprised about his business partner’s history of donating personal and company funds to political causes. Middleton, whose credits also include the “Lego Movie” and A&E’s “Bates Motel,” donated twice last year to a pro-Trump PAC, according to the Sunlight Foundation. One donation was $227,000 of his own money, and another $150,000 came from his John Powers Middleton Companies.
So after hundreds of thousands of dollars, why risk a business relationship to give another $5,000? (Political donations are not tax-deductible and are an unlikely studio reimbursement.)
One reason is a transition group is entirely separate from a presidential campaign. The Trump for America transition group is similar to the group every incoming administration sets up to aid in the hiring of new agency staff. Since it accepts both public and private money, the group must legally disclose its private donations and impose a $5,000 limit on the donations.
That means someone who wants to give more than one sum of $5,000 has to get creative. On Nov. 14, the same day the Affleck/Middleton Project donation was recorded, the Middleton Media Group LLC also donated the maximum $5,000 to the transition.
“Sometimes people and businesses see giving to a transition as not the same thing as giving to a political campaign,” says Carrie Levine, a reporter at the Center for Public Integrity who first reported on the transition donations. “One way or another there is going to be a transition between administrations… People see it as, ‘Well, I’m contributing to the goal of the transition.’ They view that as a way to make a less political contribution.”
But political or not, when creatives like Affleck become producers, that title comes with an expectation they stay informed about where their company’s money is going.
“The bottom line should be that the producer should be aware,” Madison says. “They are not the distracted creative ‘talent’ that does not think about budgets and the bottom line.”
This story has been updated.