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Melissa Gilbert taps Hollywood stars for campaign cash

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Democratic House challenger and former “Little House on the Prairie” star Melissa Gilbert has raised $200,000 for her campaign against first-term Republican Rep. Mike Bishop — mostly by tapping high-powered stars for campaign cash.

Bishop, the former Michigan Senate majority leader from Rochester, has raised $284,000 with about $228,000 in cash on hand through June 30. His fund-raising report for the third quarter was not yet posted Friday on the Federal Elections Commission website.

Gilbert reported having $183,000 on hand through Sept. 30. She reported receiving contributions from well-known performers including $1,000 from actor Alec Baldwin, $5,400 from actress Jennifer Garner, $5,400 from actor Kiefer Sutherland and $2,700 from her husband, actor Timothy Busfield.

Her contributions cut across cultural professions. The campaign received $500 each from former Green Bay Packer wide receiver Donald Driver, sports agent Mark Steinberg, Juicy Couture co-founder Gela Taylor and Duran Duran bass guitarist John Taylor.

But Gilbert did tap the Hollywood scene heavily. She received $500 from “Beverly Hills 90210” star Gabrielle Carteris, $1,000 from actress Jane Kaczmarek, $2,700 from DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, $500 from actress Juliette Lewis, $2,700 from comic Rosie O’Donnell, $500 from actress Elizabeth Perkins and $500 from Melissa Rivers.

She also received $2,700 from Dean Butler, the actor who portrayed her fictional husband “Almanzo Wilder” on “Little House on the Prairie” along with $1,300 from her sister, actress Sara Gilbert and $1,000 from actor Seth Green.

Several of Busfield’s “thirtysomething” colleagues donated to the campaign, including actor Peter Horton ($1,025), actor Ken Olin ($1,000) and creator Marshall Herskovitz ($500). Busfield is a Lansing-area native whose credits include “Field of Dreams” and “The West Wing.”

Gilbert also benefited from her 2012 appearance on “Dancing with the Stars,” which earned her a fifth place finish. Her campaign received $500 from the television show’s host Tom Bergeron and $250 from actress Florence Henderson, a 2010 show alumna who also starred in the “Brady Bunch.”

Gilbert also received contributions from congressional political action committees, including $500 from the Friends of Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint PAC, $2,000 from the PAC of House Minority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Gilbert announced her candidacy in August after moving to Livingston County two years ago.

Michigan Republicans were quick to jump on her candidacy, noting — as first reported in The Detroit News in June — that she was behind in paying federal taxes.

In August, Bishop was added to the National Republican Campaign Committee’s list of vulnerable incumbents, which includes Rep. Tim Walberg of Tipton. They both will benefit from the committee's Patriot Program, which provides extra fund-raising and organizational help as the party tries to protect its House majority.

In 2014, Bishop defeated Democratic challenger and Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing 55 percent to 42 percent.

Her candidacy could be a shot in the arm for Michigan Democrats, who haven’t done well in recent congressional races; the GOP holds nine of the 14 House seats.

In a recent Detroit News interview, Gilbert said she was running “because I feel that the people in this district feel that they don't have a voice and I want to be a voice for them.” She said education would be a top priority for her in Congress, saying it “is the last place anybody should be cutting.”

Gilbert said she has “raised four boys,” which is a good experience to working in Congress.

“There are not enough diversity of voices” in Congress, she said. “They are career politicians — and I am not.”

Gilbert made her career as a child on the “Little House on the Prairie” television show from 1973-83 and in largely made-for-TV movies as an adult.

She was president of the Screen Actors Guild, where she represented hundreds of thousands of performers.