One of the big unanswered questions arising from last April’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down federal limits on the amount that any one donor could pump into the political system was whether the Republicans or Democrats would capitalize more on the landmark ruling.
The High Court’s McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission decision kept in place the $2,600 limit on how much an individual could contribute to a presidential or congressional candidate in an election cycle. But donors were no longer bound by overall limits on how much they could donate to candidates, political parties and PACs, and the ruling invited creative accounting and bookkeeping strategies by wealthy donors and party officials and operatives.
For example, a powerful member of Congress with a “joint fundraising committee” that brought together multiple party organizations could solicit a huge contribution from a supporter with deep pockets. Then it could divvy up the money so that the donor didn’t exceed legal limits in contributing to a presidential or congressional candidate, but others could use his money to donate to the same candidate or others.
So which party benefitted the most? A new analysis of 2014 mid-term campaign contributions by the Center for Responsive Politics concludes that Republicans by better than 2 to 1 have outraised the Democrats utilizing this new subset of campaign finance.
A total of $118.2 million has been raised by joint fundraising committees so far in the mid-term campaign, according to the analysis, with $83.8 million going to 227 Republican committees and only $33.3 million going to Democratic committees. Moreover, 18 of the top 20 organization donors to joint fundraising committees support Republican candidates or causes, according to the center.
While wealthy Democrats like San Francisco businessman Tom Steyer and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have been flooding the zone with campaign contributions this year, Democrats generally have shied away from trying to exploit the McCutcheon ruling for now.
“It looks as if the Republican Party has capitalized on the opportunity to coordinate their fundraising efforts and the Democrats have been less quick to do so,” Sarah Bryner, research director for the Center for Responsive Politics, said in an interview Thursday. “I think that in the end we will see some equilibrium in fundraising, but at this point the Republicans have been quicker to nab onto this advantage.”
With control of the House and Senate at stake in the November election, it is somewhat surprising that the Democrats would cede such a lopsided advantage to the Republicans in this latest gambit for raising precious campaign funds. So far in the cycle, House and Senate campaign committees have raised a total of $1.15 billion in contributions, while Super PACs and other independent groups have raised an additional $144 million, according to center figures.
Democratic candidates are benefitting this year not only from a major influx of soft money from high rolling businessmen and special interests but the fundraising prowess of President Obama.
While many Democratic congressional candidates prefer to keep their distance from a president with an approval rating of 40 percent, they happily accept money flowing into party coffers thanks to the president’s fundraising efforts. This year alone, Obama has attended at least 40 fundraisers, according to The Washington Post. And First Lady Michelle Obama has also been highly active on the fundraising trail.
At the same time, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions could be creating a drag on Democratic campaign fundraising this year, as groups like “Ready for Hillary” already have begun preliminary fundraising efforts to set the state for her presidential bid next year. According to a recent report by BuzzFeed, the Democratic Party’s biggest SuperPAC, Priorities USA Action, “would not be involved in House or Senate campaigns this year.”
The Democrats’ reticence in this area of fundraising may be tactical, according to some experts. The Democrats are trying to make a wedge issue of the efforts of the Koch Brothers and other wealthy conservative special interests to influence the outcome of the election, and they may see virtue in minimizing their own involvement in joint fundraising committees.
Another possible explanation for the Republicans’ dominance in this newly enhanced area of fundraising is the proliferation of joint fundraising committees created by aspirants for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination who are seeking to broaden their influence.
While House Speaker John Boehner’s joint fundraising committee has raised more money than any other -- $25.5 million so far in this cycle – two Republican senators who are likely to seek their party’s nomination -- Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas -- have created “victory committees” of their own that have raised $9.2 million and $4.3 million respectively.
Seven of the ten top joint fundraising committees are backed by Republicans. The three Democratic committees in that top tier include the House Senate Victory Fund with $3.9 million, the Obama Victory Fund with $3.4 million and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s “MVPs” fund with $1.8 million.
“It looks as though at this point these committees are being used by people who are trying to increase their national profile and not necessarily people who are in tough contests,” Bryner said.
But there are two notable exceptions: Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) raised $4.5 million for his “Cantor Victory Fund” before losing his primary race to a Tea Party challenger last month, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who raised $2.9 million for his victory fund, is facing a tough Democratic challenge in the fall election.
Among the biggest donors to the GOP joint fundraising committees were: Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. of the Fremont Group in San Francisco and his wife, who gave $337,600; Jonathan D. Pollock of Elliott Management in New York and his wife, $220,800; Bruce Gates of Altria Client Services in Alexandria, Virginia and his wife, $212,400; and Philip H. Knight of Nike Inc. in Hillsboro, Oregon and his wife, $182,400.
Those who contributed strictly to Democratic committees included: Stephen Schutz of Blue Mountain Arts in La Jolla, California and his wife, $136,000; George M. Marcus of Marcus & Millichap of Palo Alto, California, $134,800; C. Cary Patterson and Lois Nix, Patterson & Roach of Texarkana, Texas, $129,600; John P. Sall, SAS Institute of Cary, N.C., and his wife, $104,800; and Jerome S. Moss, A&M Records of Beverly Hills, California and his wife, $102,400.
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