Most of Biden’s 17 Medal of Freedom Recipients Have Given Money to Democrats

Most of Biden’s 17 Medal of Freedom Recipients Have Given Money to Democrats


Most of Biden’s 17 Medal of Freedom Recipients Have Given Money to Democrats

President Joe Biden awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 17 people on Thursday.

An Insider review of federal and state campaign finance data shows that most of the recipients have also made financial contributions to Democrats — some to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

All in all, 13 of the 17 recipients — they range from long-time civil rights advocates, to professional athletes, to well-known public servants — have contributed money to Democrats.

Four others — Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, Catholic social justice advocate Sister Simone Campbell, New York critical care nurse Sandra Lindsay, and former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming — did not appear to have contributed to Democrats. Simpson, unsurprisingly, has a history of giving to Republicans.

Some recipients gave rather small sums to Democrats, and three of them — Richard Trumka, Steve Jobs, and the late Sen. John McCain — are receiving the award posthumously.

But others gave big money, and their awards today underscore how this honor sometimes comes with political overtones. In 2018, for example, then-President Donald Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Miriam Adelson, best known as wife of casino mogul and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who has since died.

According to a release from the White House, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is given to individuals who’ve “made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors.”

“These seventeen Americans demonstrate the power of possibilities and embody the soul of the nation – hard work, perseverance, and faith,” the White House said.

Here are all of the Medal of Freedom recipients who’ve given to Democrats, according to Insider’s review:

Gabby Giffords

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona, blows a kiss after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina September 6, 2012.

REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Gabrielle Giffords

Giffords, the former Democratic congresswoman from Arizona, has given significant sums to Democrats over the past decade. That’s included both individual contributions — including a $1,000 contribution to Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia in 2013 — and contributions from her gun safety-focused Giffords PAC.

The PAC, founded after she was shot and severely injured in a 2011 mass shooting at a Tucson, Arizona, event, recently announced $10 million in spending in key battleground states this year, and has already spent over $6.5 million this cycle, according to OpenSecrets.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduces the iPod Shuffle in 2005.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduces the iPod Shuffle in 2005.

James Leynse/Getty Images.

Steve Jobs

Jobs, who served as CEO of Apple prior to his death in 2011, made occasional, but large contributions to Democratic campaigns and causes in the early 2000s.

A notable contribution came in 2006, when he contributed $26,700 to House Democrats’ campaign arm as the party sought to retake the chamber in that year’s midterm elections. His largest contribution was the Democratic National Committee in 2000, when he contributed $50,000.

Along the way, he contributed $2,000 to former Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel’s congressional campaign, $2,000 to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s 2000 Senate campaign, and $500 to former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley’s presidential campaign in 1999.

Khizr Khan

Khizr Khan.


Khizr Khan

Khan, who rose to prominence after delivering a take-down of then-candidate Donald Trump at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, began contributing to Democratic candidates with some regularity in 2017.


But he’s remained a small-dollar donor; he’s only donated up to $200 at a time, much of which went to Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia’s 2018 campaign. 

However, Khan has helped numerous other Democratic candidates fundraise, lending his name to various fundraising pitches during the past several years.

“There’s no place for intolerance in Congress,” reads a 2020 campaign email on behalf of Democratic Rep. Josh Harder of California written in Khan’s name.

And he’s fundraised for Biden, too.

“I know Joe Biden can defeat Donald Trump, and he will be a great president to unite and heal us. But Joe needs our help,” Khan wrote in an April 2, 2020, email on behalf of Biden’s campaign. “His fundraising has fallen behind and we need to get it back on track so his campaign can prepare to face Donald Trump.

Biden also nominated Khan to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom last year.

US Republican presidential candidate John McCain and his daughter Meghan McCain (L) attend a campaign rally at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio on October 19, 2008.

The late Sen. John McCain was a Republican, but he once made a financial contribution to a Democrat.

ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

John McCain

McCain, the late Republican senator from Arizona and 2008 GOP presidential nominee, will never be mistaken as a Democratic megadonor. Despite his reputation as a “maverick” and his willingness to buck his own party — he killed a GOP-led Obamacare repeal in 2017 — the vast majority of McCain’s political giving was directed at Republicans during his life.

However, a review of federal records shows at least one contribution: $500 to former Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona’s 1988 presidential campaign.

Tragedy of Macbeth Denzel Washington

Actor Denzel Washington

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” / Apple TV Plus

Denzel Washington

Washington — one of the nation’s most notable movie actors who also directs and produces — has occasionally spent big on behalf of Democrats.

Most recently, he contributed $12,500 in 2020 to the Black Economic Alliance, a political committee that works to elect Democrats who are committed to Black economic progress. 

He also gave $24,300 to the Democratic National Committee in 2016, and made donations of more than $2,000 to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, and Michelle Nunn’s 2014 US Senate campaign in Georgia.

Though Washington was named as a recipient, he was not in attendance on Thursday due to a positive COVID-19 test result.

Father Alexander Karloutsos

Father Karloutsos, the former vicar general of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and spiritual counselor to several US presidents, has a surprisingly prolific record of political giving, including contributions to both Democrats and Republicans.

Most recently, he contributed $500 to Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York’s congressional campaign in June 2021, and gave a total of $900 to Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign in $50 increments. 

But he’s also given to Republicans as well, including $500 to Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York’s congressional campaign accounts in 2020 and a $1,000 contribution to former Sen. Rick Santorum’s 2006 Senate campaign in Pennsylvania.

Fred Gray

Gray, who served in the Alabama House of Representatives from 1971 to 2015 as one of its first Black members since Reconstruction, is a reliable but modest contributor to Democratic causes in his deep-red, Deep South state, both for state and federal campaigns.

Records show that Gray — a lawyer who’s represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP, and Martin Luther King — has given a hundred dollars apiece to state-level campaigns in Alabama during the last 10 years, as well as a few donations in the thousands of dollars to the state’s Democratic Executive Committee and the US Senate campaigns of Roger Bedford.

Megan Rapinoe.

Soccer star Megan Rapinoe

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Megan Rapinoe

Rapinoe, an Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion who has advocated for womens’ and LGBTQ rights, has made a couple of modest financial contributions to Democrats.

According to federal records, she gave $1,000 to Vice President Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign in 2019, as well as $100 to Amy McGrath’s long-shot Senate campaign against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2020.

But despite the contribution to Harris, she ultimately endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign a week after Harris dropped out of the race.


Richard Trumka

Trumka, the long-time president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), appears to have directed the vast majority of his political spending to his organization’s political action committee, according to federal records.

However, the AFL-CIO — and organized labor more broadly — represent a powerful force within Democratic politics, and Trumka had significant influence over how the federation of unions directed its financial largesse.

According to nonpartisan research organization OpenSecrets, the union’s political operations have given Democrats and Democratic causes millions of dollars in direct contributions during recent years.

Wilma Vaught

Vaught, one of just seven female generals in the Armed Forces at the time of her retirement in 1985, does not appear to have made any significant federal campaign contributions during the last 12 years.

But before that, she contributed more than $1,000 to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, along with a handful of $250 contributions to EMILY’s List, a political committee that backs women candidates who support abortion rights, between 2001 and 2005. She also made a $250 contribution to Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s 2006 House campaign.

Diane Nash

Nash, the founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who worked on behalf of civil rights causes with Martin Luther King Jr., has made very small political contributions in recent years — never more than $40 at a time.

In 2019 and 2020, she made frequent small-dollar contributions to Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign, and in 2016, she gave to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

Raul Yzaguirre

Yzaguirre, the US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic under President Barack Obama and the former president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, has occasionally made large contributions to Democrats.

According to federal records, he gave $1,500 to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign and $1,000 to several Democratic congressional campaigns.

However, he does not appear to have made any significant contributions since giving $1,000 to Senate Democrats’ campaign arm in 2009.

Julieta García

García, the former president of the University of Texas at Brownsville and the first Hispanic woman to serve as a college president, gave $50 Julián Castro’s 2020 presidential campaign.

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