Actor Hill Harper is selling himself as a bonafide progressive in the competitive primary for a Michigan Senate seat. That could be difficult to square with his past as a longtime promotional speaker for Wells Fargo.
But Harper’s trying.
The backstory: Harper’s relationship with Wells Fargo dates back to 2010, in the wake of the financial crash, when he began appearing at events targeted towards Black communities. Around that same time, Wells Fargo was also facing a blockbuster lawsuit from the Department of Justice over discriminatory lending practices, which resulted in Wells Fargo ultimately agreeing to pay a $175 million settlement in 2012.
In the years after, Harper continued to appear at Wells Fargo events on behalf of the business, and posted about the company on his social media, largely talking about financial literacy. In 2011, Harper also acknowledged narrating a commercial for Wells Fargo.
Days before his Senate launch, Harper said in an interview that Wells Fargo is “a really wonderfully run company” and spoke highly of its leadership. Harper’s work with the company appears to have ended this year — as that same interview advertised Harper as having “recently completed” his stint as a “financial ambassador” for the company.
That coziness with Wells Fargo doesn’t exactly align with mainstream takes from progressives. Big banks have been the ire of the left for years — including in Michigan, where the 2008 financial crisis led to sweeping foreclosures in Detroit. On the Hill, progressive senators have also regularly targeted banks, including Wells Fargo, for stricter regulation.
Since announcing his bid, Harper has highlighted his pro-union chops as an actor and member of the SAG-AFTRA guild, which is currently on strike. Harper’s Senate launch message identified him as running a “progressive campaign” built on “the principles of social justice and economic dignity.”
His response: “Hill Harper does dozens of speaking events every year for non-profits, foundations, community organizations, and corporations, including the Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan, the National Urban League, and Providence College,” a spokesperson for Harper said in a statement.
“These specific events were aimed at empowering young Black people across the country through financial literacy and education, including a program to develop students’ sales and marketing skills. In the Senate, he will be a strong advocate for restoring Glass-Steagall [banking regulations] and legislation to prohibit predatory lending, junk fees, and redlining.”
Harper’s team declined to answer questions on how much money he’s received from Wells Fargo over the years or what the contractual terms between him and Wells Fargo were. Harper has not yet released the financial disclosures required of Senate candidates.
When asked about Wells Fargo’s relationship with Harper, a company spokesperson responded, “Many companies, including Wells Fargo, regularly collaborate with social influencers and other experts to help amplify messages and reach audiences.”
Harper’s candidacy has already been tricky due to questions about the length of his Michigan residency. He’s running in the primary against Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), who’s dominated in early endorsements from Democratic lawmakers. While Michigan leans favorable for Democrats next cycle, Republicans are still hoping to be competitive there after former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) announced his Senate bid earlier this month — though he’s also faced some residency questions.